Covid sticker - Wikimedia Commons: Ardfern

Four years on from the first lockdown – looking back, how were students really impacted?

Four years have passed since the UK experienced its first national lockdown.

Those three government-imposed lockdowns impacted everyone, everywhere.

Many university students were severely impacted, because the establishments needed to adapt quickly to adhere to the ever-changing rules.

In most cases, this resulted in students being sent home to study remotely.

While some things in society have returned to the pre-pandemic normal, others haven’t.

Office work seems to have settled into a ‘new-normal’ – a term we heard, and sometimes still hear, from the government – with hybrid working becoming common. 

And university seems to have kept certain elements of covid-life, despite eventually having returned mostly to pre-pandemic normal. 

Josie Roberts, 24, was studying at Manchester School of Arts, MMU, when Boris Johnson announced the national lockdown on March 23 2020.

Josie Roberts - copyright by her
Josie Roberts on the tram in Manchester: image provided by Josie

She said: “No one really knew what was going on.

“There had been talk of this thing happening, and general hygiene posters went up around uni.

“But then suddenly I remember being in my room when Boris made the lockdown announcement. 

“My dad rang me from Leeds and said ‘I’m coming to get you’. I remember just looking around my uni room and realised I only had one hour to pack everything up.

“It wasn’t the nice ending to first year I had hoped for.”

Josie was in her first year of studying Fashion Arts Direction, a practical course, when lockdown began.

She said: “We were still expected to carry on with our group projects while we were all in different parts of the country.

“There wasn’t that much sympathy given towards our cohort of students, their expectations of us didn’t change.”

Josie moved back to Manchester for second year, but things weren’t back to normal.

She said: “There were covid leftovers. They didn’t remove any of the posters which felt horrible.

“I don’t think they transitioned very well when returning – I think people struggled after missing a whole year.

“I remember thinking: I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know how any of these things work, and I don’t know where anything is.”

She also had trouble accessing her student bursary funds, which in normal circumstances would be spent on campus.

Cameron Stanley, 24, started studying Psychology at MMU in September 2020.

Cameron Stanley at university in Manchester
Cameron Stanley at university in Manchester: image provided by Cameron

Due to restrictions, during his first year he only had around three lectures in person and struggled to get the ‘uni experience’.

He said: “Because of the restrictions, I couldn’t meet many people from outside my accommodation. I felt very restricted with who I could meet.

“I feel like I missed out on meeting people on nights out and gigs and the mingling element of university.

“I didn’t have any course mates in first year because I didn’t know them – I hadn’t met them.”

Cameron switched courses to study Music Production at Spirit Studios in September 2021. 

He found that as a practical course, it returned almost entirely to in person – which was what Cameron had wanted from his uni experience.

Abby Wardle, 24, was in her second year of studying Events Management at MMU when the pandemic began. 

Abby moved home to Leeds just days before the lockdown was announced, but during this time she recalls feeling stuck and unsure of what to do.

She said: “I remember being at uni, thinking – should I even be here?”

“The supermarkets didn’t have anything in stock. Chicken was really hard to get and people had started stockpiling toilet rolls – but we didn’t know why.

“The uni was still saying ‘come in, everything is fine’.

“Then I remember going into uni and just thinking – we definitely shouldn’t be here. There were four of us in the whole lecture theatre.”

Abby’s mum drove to Manchester to collect her belongings, but sent her on a train home to Leeds as she was afraid of the risks of catching covid.

Hand sanitiser - Rights: Miranda Pell
Hand sanitiser – Rights: Miranda Pell

She never returned to study at Manchester and finished the rest of her course remotely, but she still had to continue paying rent, at a slightly reduced rate, for the rest of her tenancy.

Abby said that the tutors expected them to just get on with the course, the same as if they were in person.

Her placement year was in 2020/21, but this was cancelled due to covid restrictions at the time, which meant it was harder for her to get into the industry when her course finished.

Lots of universities have gone back to in-person teaching, but most exams are still conducted online, and some contact hours are still remote. 

The group of students impacted by the lockdowns were given no financial compensation and were unfortunately not given the same opportunities as students at other times.

They were also blamed by the government for the rise in cases leading to subsequent lockdowns, despite advising their return to normality. 

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons – Ardfern – This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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