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The start of 2021 has been a rocky one, with students having to adapt to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic - and for many upcoming exams - in an entirely new way.
On 4 January, the UK government announced that a national lockdown would be taking place from midnight on the morning of 6 January.
For students both at home and abroad, this raised serious concerns about the exam season and returning to campus. Read more about the disruption to in-person teaching caused by the lockdown here.
Universities, however, adapted well and many introduced new mitigation measures for international students who had returned home for the Christmas break, as well as those who would be facing another lockdown on campus.
Two University of Northampton students said that this was a particularly hard time for many who weren’t sure about how the rest of the year would be structured.
Amelia Taylor, 20, is a BA Professional Policing student and Poppy Johnson, 20, is studying BA Footwear and Accessories Design. Both have spent January in their student house in Northampton, not being able to return home because of the lockdown measures.
“At Northampton, we benefit from their new campus,” says Poppy, “Both of us are on very specialist courses and we have lecturers that match that.”
However, there have been some issues since the start of 2021, as the University adapts to further online teaching.
“The University has brought back mitigating circumstances for Covid,” explained Amelia. “We now can submit assessed work over multiple deadlines.”
There has been however growing pressure for the UK government to do more to protect students, especially when it comes to fees and living costs both on and off campus.
The third national lockdown is hoped to be the final one by many UK students as mass-vaccination is rolled out at increasing speed across the country.
The government has this week announced that UK schools will return no earlier than 8 March. Although this is no guarantee that students at UK universities will be allowed back on campus to access facilities such as libraries, it is hoped that it demonstrates that the priority is being placed on education as restrictions are eased.
Many universities continue to offer comprehensive mental health support for their students who may be struggling through the lockdown, as well as financial support for those who may not be able to work during the lockdown.
There is however a resounding feeling that we are moving towards the end of national lockdown measures, and hopefully towards a more normal way of life.
Many students have been petitioning the government for more support when it comes to fees and living expenses during term-time.
“Northampton has a rent strike,” said Amelia. “They are trying to fight for more support for students who are still paying for accommodation when they can’t be on campus.”
University-wide rent strikes have grown in the last 12months, and are now happening at at least 45 UK universities. Many institutions have implemented measures to support students who are in on-campus accommodation. However little can be done to support those in private accommodation without government support. You can read our guide on what to do if you wish to end your tenancy early here.
There has also been growing pressure from students towards the government for a fee reduction due to online teaching, as well as the lack of accessibility of facilities during national lockdown.
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has previously said that “universities are autonomous and responsible for setting their own fees” and that concerns “should first be raised with their university”.
It doesn’t look as though universities are considering a tuition-fee reduction in the near future.
Students in the UK still benefit from one of the best education systems in the world, with many demonstrating innovative approaches to moving teaching online, as well as supporting their students.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has this week promised a ‘roadmap’ out of restrictions in the coming weeks. This should offer greater clarity about how students and universities can adapt further to this new way of learning.
Moreover, the government has confirmed that the COVID vaccine will be available to international students in the UK. Read more here.
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