By Cicely McFarlane
Being a student in these unprecedented times can be a challenging hurdle to overcome. Not only have we lost our social lives, but we also have to try and manage a new type of workload; this includes courses being taught on Zoom, access to libraries being restricted, and trying to cope with constant uncertainty, not only academically, but in every aspect of our lives.
Now, temporarily losing our social lives is of course nowhere near the most pressing issue following the last year. But as stress levels continue to rise, the acknowledgment of not having an outlet to release stress, see friends or even family, must be noted to understand the fuller picture of why more support is needed for students in lockdown. With most national COVID-19 broadcasts not even mentioning university students, it leaves a looming sense of insecurity as we young adults have to make quick decisions to ensure our safest lockdown environment.
For students with fractious family relations or a tense living situation at University, the ‘best environment’ to thrive academically, yet also to remain physically and mentally stable, becomes more of an illusion the longer this pandemic lasts. These are not ‘normal’ circumstances in which to live, let alone thrive, with motivation being a harder concept to hold onto as we go into 2021.
This needs to be acknowledged as not ‘laziness’ or ‘lack of care’, but a real development for struggling students affected by the past year. These versions of ourselves are evidently not going to perform to the best of their ability, as we spend all day in our rooms for online courses without the usual outlets we’d use as downtime. Recent developments not only in mainstream media but also in personal stories I have gathered demonstrate a lack of deserving care.
This is not to undermine the work done by university staff; these are unprecedented times. No one can know the personal stress endured by staff or students, and this needs to be continuously remembered. Yet, we also need to have the acknowledgment and acceptance from staff members that these hardships are not being exaggerated. Some consider us the ‘snowflake’ generation, but how can that be true when we are simply reacting to the unlikely troubles and issues that we are faced with?
Circumstances from this past year are deserving of not only an effective safety net, but further preventative measures that ensure our degree results that will stay with us for the rest of our lives, will not be hindered by the effects of COVID-19, or the university at which we decided to further our education.
After speaking with many students from a number of universities, situations that have had a lack of necessary and required support are not shocking to me, as I think there is a consensus amongst students that not enough has been done. However, the stories need to be shared to indicate not only to staff, but to everybody, the lack of specific attention or help given to University students.
Policies of scaling will hopefully assist in our final grades, yet that hope is not much comfort when we are still in this environment, uncertain if we are on the right track in our educational development with a non-detriment policy still none the clearer.
So, what should be done? Ensure to the students, in clear terms, that deserving grades will be given in these trying times regardless of previous years. Set a new precedent for pandemic students to guarantee that they will not be made to leave University victim to the effect of a pandemic. Students should be commended on their resilience for even making it to the end of their University degree, and the grade they receive should reflect and demonstrate their strength and perseverance.
Yes, this is unprecedented, but this pandemic is a modern-day anomaly. There is no protocol that must be followed; it should be seen as just that, unique and incomparable with previous years. In my opinion, for the state of the world we are living and learning in now, nobody deserves below a 2:1. It is a mental triumph to even endure further education in this environment and this should be noticed and appreciated. To those stating this is a ‘cop-out’ and could result in undeserving grades, where were your complaints when people received A-level qualifications without even taking an exam?
One particular student got told by the library that they cannot send over a scanned chapter of a book needed for a 3rd-year essay due to copyright infringement. This was during a national lockdown, so what are students expected to do? Further examples include courses from a University that will remain nameless, promising to students a rigid safety net in the summer of 2020 for the following January 2021 exams. Yet when these came around it was changed from the non-detriment policy to simply adding a further 30 minutes onto the exam.
This does not provide sufficient help; time is a contributing factor of course, but arguably the issue of not receiving the education we hoped for cannot be helped by a further 30 minutes. This, accompanied by students mentally struggling (and even cases of some missing lectures due to the strain and stress they feel when questioned to put their camera on in zoom calls) highlights the daily stresses people feel within this new learning world. Cameras should be allowed off without question if it provides some form of comfort, for some, yes, Zoom doesn’t faze them, but for others it does, and they do not and should not even have to justify as to why.
Following this, cases have been reported of emails being ignored by staff, for example, questions surrounding essay guidance being met with ‘I don’t have time for this’, or ‘everyone is in the same boat’ in regards to struggling to find resources outside of the library. As well a student experiencing family trauma and grief being met with no replies. This takes a further toll on students’ mentalities. Furthermore, some students informed me how waiting lists for mental health services that they have enquired into, have been over a month-long. This is unacceptable and highlights just what a crisis vulnerable students are truly in.
For Cardiff University directly, I’m aware that 39 ambulances were called in the first term surrounding issues of self-harm and suicide. There have been student suicides up and down the country, where lives have been tragically lost. This is the most pressing issue. The uncertainty caused by the pandemic needs to be further acknowledged yet ultimately accepted by any person of responsibility, whether this is parents, staff, or Government officials. Accepting how stress has formed its own epidemic within the student community should not be taken lightly, and should be the priority, even if this means adapting the whole University exam guidelines to give students their deserving outcome.
Again, I am not calling for blame, I’m calling for the acknowledgment of the true and serious nature of student life in lockdown. I’m calling for this to be identified and appreciated as to why students, nationally, are asking for concrete reassurance and solidified plans that help us today, not after we fail, not scaling.
Far more attention must be placed on doing what you can when you can, and prioritising health above all, without the fear of grades slipping. Officials should assist this by acknowledging the trend of enraged students feeling let down, even if staff are trying their hardest and are unsure how to further assist.
I would like to conclude by thanking all the staff who have been patient and tried to understand as much as possible the type of environment we continually have to endure. This is not to undermine your efforts, but to highlight how the cracks in lockdown University life have now become detrimental flaws.