Saturday, October 16

Students are returning to universities in England, and after Covid, we need support | Kimi Chaddah

TThis month, there is a sense of anticipation in the air as students like me begin to return to college in record numbers. While students have been allowed onto campus at various points over the past 18 months, this academic term will be the first time that many will be able to host nights out in college bars, host social gatherings, and of course attend classes and lectures. .

Durham University, the University of Bath and the University of Sheffield are among the universities that have lectures in person in some departments. After a year in which the opposite has been dictated, being in a crowded room feels unsettling. But with cautious optimism, I look forward to the spontaneity of the in-person interaction. However, some institutions, such as the University of Edinburgh, the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics, are running smaller face-to-face seminars, but holding virtual conferences this year. It seems that some of the short-term solutions adopted during the pandemic may be here to stay.

There are valid reasons to keep some online learning as part of a hybrid model. It is safer as we approach fall with Covid-19 still in circulation, and it may be more accessible for some disabled students. But it is not without its drawbacks, as it is devoid of the interaction, warmth, and energy found in a room full of like-minded people. I know from my experience as a freshman last year how easy it is to fall behind in online lectures and classes – conversations with teachers feel distant and connections with classmates superficial. “It feels like we’re stuck in a hiatus,” says Sophia, a second-year math student at the University of Leeds. “Everything else is moving forward: the schools, the events, the weather itself, and we’re stuck looking at the screens.”

For freshmen who will have already suffered two years of interrupted learning due to intermittent lockdowns and bouts of self-isolation, these educational obstacles will be particularly challenging. Higher student fees could fund recovery services and pastoral support; for example, at the University of Birmingham, freshmen have been provided with methods on how to study and be successful in the course.

Some students may not have taken any exams since their GCSES: To ease the pressure next summer, colleges could offer students the option to postpone exams or have their results waived. In cases where this is not possible, they could do the open book tests or replace them with course work.

And just as important as academic guidance, this cohort will also need pastoral care. “We need transition mentors and points of contact,” says Hope, a freshman at University College London. Her last year of school was characterized by stress and self-isolation, and she tells me that she is struggling “socially” and is nervous about re-forming large groups. Mental health services will be vital in helping students through this great time of transition: from school to college, from confinement to normal life.

For sophomores who spent most of their freshman year stuck in campus accommodation, engaging in activities reminiscent of a typical rookie week could create the sense of community that has so far been absent from their school. college experience and allaying the concerns that established friendships have generated. has already been formed. “Right now, any event that simply introduces students to each other is worthwhile,” says Emily, a sophomore at Newcastle University.

The next few months will be challenging for students, and that’s before they have to find a conference room that they have never visited, let alone heard of. But change, when managed correctly, can be an opportunity for growth. Before the pandemic, universities were a breeding ground for isolation and loneliness, and students had to wait months for mental health counseling and support. By finally listening to the urgent needs of their students this year, universities can begin to put wellness at the heart of their institutions. The new normal doesn’t have to be so bad.

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