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  • Tara Davies

Half my degree has been spent in a pandemic

Just over a year ago the UK was put in its first of three lockdowns (or first of four for some!). We went from having plans every Friday or Saturday night with friends to catch-ups with bottles of wine over Zoom.

Everyone was introduced to the idea of 'remote working', as everything went online. As a university student, the concept of waking up 30 minutes before a lecture and still having time to shower was attractive at first. You can sit and listen with a cuppa in your favourite mug or watch a 9am from the comfort of your bed. Unfortunately, the novelty soon wore off.

Whilst having the opportunity to be comfortable on Zoom feels a tad bit luxurious, it's somewhat upsetting it has been over a year since I've sat in a lecture theatre. One of my units pre-Lockdown One boasted a hall of three different courses and now the idea of that many people being in one room seems absurd. Although, somehow football games were able to hold stadiums full of people- but that's a whole other story.

I’m a final year student, and I've really been thinking a lot lately about how I’ve spent half my degree unable to actually physically attend uni. If you told me this would’ve been the case when I was applying for my degree in 2017/2018, I probably wouldn't have bothered with higher education. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t be a breath away from being handed my degree nor would I have as much of an indication of what type of career I may like.

One of the things I've struggled the most with when completing university remotely is the lack of routine. Ordinarily (in a pandemic-less life), a lot of students find the transition from school to university insanely hard. At school you've got a fixed timetable and you know you're spending at least 7 hours at school. Then you go off to uni and find you've got 70% free time. The difficulty comes down to forcing yourself to actually do your work instead of watching Netflix or going clubbing –– but somehow you still know what time you've got to get things done.

The combination of a complete lack of anything to look forward to and my bedroom becoming my permanent work-space destroyed my motivation. There were times when I did have bursts of energy but the work I was producing just wasn’t the same as pre-pandemic. It feels almost ironic that having nothing to do and nowhere to go makes it harder to crack on. Then with everything transferring to emails, my university inbox has become a hellscape. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by a billion new emails a day.

In early-mid April, Boris announced university students would be able to return to university from 17th May. Whilst at first glance this seems like a beacon of hope, you soon realise the majority of students have finished their lectures by then and exam season is in full force.

For me personally, Boris’s words were pretty much redundant. As a final year student, my hours naturally drastically reduced due to a heavier focus on large assignments like my dissertation and major project. In addition, my dissertation deadline was the 17th May –– marking the end of my degree apart from a couple of small bits and bobs. After the 17th May I had no reason to make my way to uni.

Any speculation of lectures and seminars finally being in-person again means almost nothing to me. I’d be happy to see other students be able to properly go to university again, but I’ve still missed out on half of my degree.

Don’t get me wrong, my lecturers have been great and do the best they can, but it’s just not been the same as pre-pandemic. Being in uni you have the opportunity to bounce ideas off your peers before lectures and decipher the assignment together. The University of Zoom doesn’t give you the chance to have this type of small talk. Not to mention I wasn’t able to have the same access as I had before to the radio/tv studios, something quite important when on a journalism degree.

When reflecting on Boris’s words about university staff and students over the last year, he’s not really said much at all. Students have been paying the full fees for courses that weren’t all that were promised. Not to mention rents are still coming out for accommodation each month that most haven’t even been living in. The 17th of May statement is really the only statement that’s been made regarding universities. It’s no over exaggeration to say students have been abandoned by the Tories.

It feels slightly strange there’s been little to no build up to the end of my degree simply because I’ve not had the same contact. I submitted my dissertation on a Friday and I just thought: “Is that it?” On the other hand, it’s quite nice to know I can mark the end of my degree by going to a pub or a restaurant –– something that last year’s graduates didn’t have until July.

I know it’s not the end of the world that I had to finish the second half of my degree online/ If this pandemic had been about 20 years ago, I don’t think the internet would’ve been able to be utitlsed as much as it has. Still, it’s a little bit saddening to know I’ve missed out on something I was so excited for. I just hope the next wave of university students have a better experience than my year has had.

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