With alarmingly high numbers of students facing isolation, mental health issues and financial hardship at university, this academic year has been undeniably tough.
As we navigate through the many challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s vital that universities and the government provide students with the support they need.
However, Save the Student’s new survey shows that this, too often, has not been the case.
The Students and Covid-19 survey asked over 2,000 students how they really feel about the impact of coronavirus on their university experience – and the results make for a pretty sobering read.
Finding it difficult to ask for help
As many as three in five students in the survey have so far needed to ask for help with issues related to the pandemic. But, of those that have asked for help, 39% said it was difficult or very difficult.
This in itself is worrying. It shouldn’t be difficult for students to access help – the support should be readily available for those who need it, without any further challenges to add to the problems they’re already facing.
But, on top of this, some have also expressed feelings of being ‘scapegoated’ for issues related to coronavirus – issues that they themselves are greatly impacted by.
There have been a lot of stories in major news outlets about students flouting the rules and hosting big parties. These can present students to be reckless and flippant in their attitudes to the guidelines, but the survey suggests this is generally not the case.
Are students being careful?
For the majority of the student population, reports of rule-flouting don’t actually seem to reflect the reality of their uni experience this year.
While 37% are really worried about catching the virus, this figure is dwarfed by the 56% who fear passing it on to others.
What’s more, 77% said they’ve followed the government’s guidelines the whole time, with almost all others saying they have most of the time. Only 1% said they haven’t been following the rules.
With so many students following the rules and worrying about passing COVID-19 on to others, it’s all the more worrying that some students express feeling unfairly blamed in the crisis.
One second-year student in the survey said:
As a student, I feel like a scapegoat and that the government is hiding their guilt through us.”
Another second-year student mirrored this comment, saying:
[The] Government [is] using students as a scapegoat for a rise in cases, when most people I know have been following the rules and self-isolating when they need to, or sometimes even if they don’t need to. It’s just not fair. It’s so frustrating.
They’re not helping us in any way, financially or with mental health.”
This student won’t be alone in feeling this way – a huge 66% of people in the survey said their mental health’s suffered as a result of the pandemic.
In fact, one first-year student commented:
I don’t think the government is fully acknowledging the mental health crisis at the moment that is happening everywhere, but I feel is especially prevalent in students.”
This issue of students’ mental health has also been highlighted by NUS in response to this survey.
Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS Vice President (Higher Education), said:
These findings are no surprise. Students are facing severe hardship, and have been left out of support available to other parts of society.
The actions of universities, locking down and fencing in their students, have only served to make the student mental health crisis even worse. Students have been let down at every turn of the pandemic, and we deserve better.”
Is the government doing enough?
With students feeling scapegoated and expressing concerns that their struggles aren’t fully getting acknowledged, it seems that, for many, the government isn’t doing nearly enough.
One area that the government certainly should be helping is in the guidelines that are intended to limit the spread of the virus.
For three in five students, though, this guidance isn’t clear enough. So, even for students who are making an effort to follow the rules, this can become more difficult than it should be if the guidelines aren’t communicated clearly enough.
As a general population, students should not be blamed. Now more than ever, they need support, clear communication and an acknowledgement from universities and the government of the struggles they’re experiencing.
Jake Butler, our money expert, said:
Students are among the groups worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s clear from our stats that many have experienced job losses, lack of access to university facilities, accommodation issues, poor communication and so much more.
The toll this has taken, and is still taking, on students’ mental health is really distressing to see. We could be creeping towards a huge and very damaging mental health crisis among students.
Without action from the government and universities in a number of key areas such as student accommodation, student funding and tuition fee refunds, we can expect students that have struggled through the first semester to face even more difficulties ahead.