‘We’re not getting value for money’ - Students face reality of changed life on campus
PUBLISHED: 18:30 28 September 2020 | UPDATED: 18:45 28 September 2020
Face masks in lectures, limited socialising and having to turn tiny living rooms into art studios, Norfolk students have revealed what life is like as universities implement strict coronavirus restrictions.
Students beginning the new terms at both the University of East Anglia and Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) are faced with guidelines limiting campus activity and swifting much of their teaching online.
Mikita Enchevska, a new interior design student at NUA, said: “They are being pretty strict. We have to wear masks in classes and around the campus. The teachers are wearing them too.
“It makes it very difficult to properly communicate. Personally I hate it but it’s what the government has specified.”
Isaac Burr, a second year fine art student, said online teaching meant he was now producing artworks in his living room rather than a dedicated on-site studio.
“It’s a pretty weird way to be doing art to be honest,” he said. “Having a set studio space is important so not having one makes it quite tricky. The staff are all doing a great job but it’s in difficult circumstances.”
MORE: UEA offers staff and students Covid-19 test with results in 24 hours
Universities have been forced to adapt to welcome students back on campus including one-way systems, social distancing and a mix of face-to-face where possible but munich teaching has moved to online learning.
A UEA spokesperson said: “Teams have been working tirelessly over the summer to create a Covid-secure environment for our teaching and learning, social activities and our whole campus.
“We have also reminded everyone that it’s essential we all follow the latest government advice and respect the safety arrangements we have put in place. This includes respecting social distancing, following our one way system, washing or sanitising hands frequently, and wearing a face covering where required.”
Students moving into shared accommodation have been told this is the equivalent of their “household” in terms of government guidelines.
Norfolk has so far escaped Covid-19 outbreaks that have seen thousands of students forced to self-isolate following a surge in cases at universities including Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester Metropolitan and Edinburgh Napier.
New students, who have already endured the summer grading fiasco, are stuck inside while being charged up to £9,250 in tuition fees, as well as rent.
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman is among the growing list of MPs calling for compensation for undergraduates who have seen face-to-face teaching cancelled.
He said: “Universities are free institutions, they are not public sector, and I think university vice chancellors around the country, many of whom are on very substantial salaries, should be looking and saying how can we be fair to a generation of students?
“I want every university to look seriously at how they can give students a choice and reduce fees if they are not getting the full experience.”
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students (OfS), said there were “concerns” with some universities and colleges over the level of support provided for students.
She said: “This is a really difficult situation for students, particularly those embarking on their studies away from home for the first time.
“It is particularly difficult for students facing severe restrictions to their day-to-day lives because of campus lockdowns.
“Students have a right to good-quality higher education - whether that is taught online, in-person or a mixture of the two.”
MORE: ‘UEA should take the hit’ - Anger over students paying double for rooms
The Department for Education said universities were “autonomous” and that it expected them to “continue to deliver a high-quality academic experience”.
A number of universities have introduced their own testing centres on campus, with the UEA launching an in-house swab testing for all staff and students in conjunction with the Earlham Institute.
Beth Stilgoe, from Foulsham, studying for an MA Fine Art at NUA, said: “We are having lectures but most of the one-to-one teaching is having to be online.
“A lot of students are frustrated by it but it’s the situation we are in so what can you do?”
Fine art undergraduate Brandon Tilley, from Essex, added: “We have to nuke everything we use in college with sanitiser afterwards and wear a mask all the time which doesn’t make lectures easy.
“I’m in my second year but if I was a new student I may have deferred to be honest.”
Despite the measures students also face very different lives with on campus events cancelled and social activities limited
A UEA spokesman said: “Our welcome week focussed on making students feel at home and getting them out of their rooms and outdoors as much as possible.”
Very different life on campus for Norfolk student
Former Fakenham high school and sixth form college student Michael Viner, who is in his second year studying environmental geography at the University of York, explains what university life is like in the ‘new normal’.
“All my large lectures will be online and I have had a few of them so far. For the situation we have, I find them reasonable but not ideal.
“My main issue and from speaking to fellow students is more of a concentration issue, we’re in student houses or flats which at times can not be the best areas to work due to noise, tidiness etc.
“Last year being in a lecture hall, the library or a study space meant you were truly focused on work however as that is not possible, it can be difficult to both motivate yourself and stay concentrated when studying.
“I have one or two face-to-face teaching hours a week, in small groups where masks must be worn at all times, but it just does not feel the same as before.
“Aside from lectures, I was due to have a variety of field trips and lab work this term. However that has all been pushed back to spring, for now, which is disappointing but I understand the reasons.
“I’m due to go to Tenerife on a field trip in spring, but very little is known as to whether this can happen.
“I think the general student consensus is that we probably are not getting value for money, especially as we were affected by the strikes last year too.
“The government offering some sort of refund, especially for those who for health reasons who can not access campus for the few face-to-face hours we do have, should be compensated to some extent.
“I do worry about the mental health effect this will have on students, especially in first year. Being away from home, for the first time for many, is scary enough but with the restrictions on socialising and going out.”