Student reactions to lifting of lockdown roadmap and the return to class

The government has announced schools and colleges can reopen from March 8, but where does this leave the nation’s university students?

Students eagerly awaited the announcement, hoping to return to in-person teaching and practical lectures.

From March 8 all schools and colleges can reopen with some restrictions in place.

Meanwhile only university students on practical courses, like medicine, nursing, and dentistry, who may need access to certain facilities and equipment, can return to campuses.

The government was keen to emphasise that strict social distancing measures must be adhered to and students must wear masks at all times.

During Monday’s press conference, the prime minister said: “Students on practical courses can return to university, but all others will need to continue learning online, and we’ll review the situation before the end of the Easter holidays.”

Practical courses does not just include science courses, but also applies to subjects like teaching and social work.

From March 8, measures will be in place on campus including social distancing and asymptomatic testing.

The opening of schools will then be followed by a roadmap to lifting all coronavirus restrictions by June 21 if certain conditions are met, but no firm decision has been made on re-opening universities.

And while the news from the prime minister has been welcomed by many students who are cautiously optimistic, others are disappointed they will not return to in-person teaching.

Many feel online learning strips university of the social aspect, leading to significant mental health problems due to isolation and lack of contact.

A postgraduate student and trainee teacher at the University of Cumbria said: “My reaction is mixed because I’m glad to be back but on the other hand I think they should do a staggered return, starting with younger year groups.”

“I also think there will likely be behavioural issues at first because some children will have fallen behind during lockdown so when they come back this will have an impact on them socially and emotionally.”

The Government is aware of this, and has pledged an extra £400 million of funding for summer schools for pupils who have fallen behind.

Narissa Jewa, a student of French and History at Bristol University said: “I’m very glad to see that things are gradually getting back to normal, but this doesn’t change anything for students on non-practical courses like me.

“My course requires lots of discussion, and it’s very hard to do that over zoom when people may be less inclined to speak up.

“As an international student, I feel I’m being treated unfairly as I am having to pay an extra £1,000 despite not having my full university experience.

“I feel I’ve been overcharged and that I will continue to be overcharged.”

Daniel Kabakov, a postgraduate Politics and International Relations student at Lancaster University echoed this: “As an international student I’m paying twice as much as domestic students and feel I’m being overcharged for a service I could get with Open University.

“With regard to the restrictions, I think the government is right to err on the side of caution, but there needs to be more recognition from universities about the struggles of international students.

“I am also worried that because of the announcement, some will start to break rules, so restrictions won’t be lifted. It makes me sad because my university experience will likely never go back to normal.”

Another student, studying a master’s degree in English Literature at King’s College London had a slightly different perspective: “It’s cheaper for me to travel to university from home, but I can understand why others feel frustrated in having to pay for rent despite not being on campus.

“It makes sense why students on non-practical courses would want restrictions to be lifted quicker but the government doesn’t want to rush things and risk another spike.”

Douglas Haigh, another student at Bristol University studying a masters in Mathematics said: “I’m not sure whether this will include me, but I hope to return soon.

“Lockdown has really brought down the social side of university and we can’t expect that not to impact the academic side of things.

“People benefitted from the discipline of waking up at a certain time and going to their lectures, and without grades will suffer which could affect students in the future.”

While many are glad to see an end is in sight, many are disappointed that the roadmap for reopening does not include all students.

Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of The Russell Group said: “Whilst we understand the importance of easing lockdown in a cautious and controlled way to ensure further tightening of measures are not required, we would urge the Government to consider whether more students can return to in-person teaching at the Roadmap’s first review point in early April.”

The possibility remains open that all students could return in summer, but some universities say they will remain online until the end of the year.

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