Despite covid-19, students are staying in Northern Ireland

Even where students are encouraged to return home, many choose to stay near their university - for study, for work, and for safety. Peter Moor talks to three students choosing to stay in Northern Ireland.

Throughout Northern Ireland, many student houses are empty.

Queen’s University, Belfast has explicitly stated that students who are not from Northern Ireland will “suffer no academic disadvantage” if they return home. Ulster University has also offered similar advice. Both Queen’s and Ulster universities have also taken the generous step to offer refunds to anyone who has left university accommodation early, reducing the financial burden for these students. There are 9,645 students at Northern Ireland’s universities who are not resident in Northern Ireland. Whilst many of these will have returned to the safety of the family home, certain students remain.

I spoke to three of them, to see why they are staying.

Emma Swan

Emma, a physics and astrophysics student, is originally from Guildford, Surrey.

It does make me sad that I’m going to struggle to get home to see my family. It could be more than six months without seeing them,”

However, for Emma, her health is partly the reason for staying in Belfast.

There are a lot more cases from where I’m from in the South. People commute to and from London. Here in Belfast it is not that bad. There’s less people. It’s less populated,”

Emma is also keeping busy by working in a local Boots pharmacy during the pandemic.

It’s very very crazy at the minute, trying to get through as best we can,”

Emma is juggling her job with her university workload. Despite reassurances from university that her degree would not be affected by going home, Emma still feels as if she is better placed to stay in Northern Ireland.

There’s more certainty here in regards to coursework and exams. It’s easier for me to stay and have easier access to resources. This pandemic will come to an end eventually but my degree will still go on. For the long term it makes sense to prioritise my degree over everything,”

Scott Duffield

Scott, from Glasgow is a Broadcast and Media Production student, and also works in Belfast as a freelance assistant producer.

I’m staying put for work. I’m in the studio every Sunday so I need to be about for that.”

Whilst Scott is staying in Northern Ireland, his family do have some concerns.

I know that my mum does want me to come back. It’s more of the mindset of if I get ill, are there people to look after me?”

However, he and his mother have been reassured as he has received offers of support from people he knows throughout Northern Ireland.

People I worked with have been great getting in touch with me. People are worrying about me. It shows the great side of the media industry. I’ve been taking precautions since the word go, making sure everything is cleaned down and social distancing.”

Shing Him Mak

Shing Him moved to Northern Ireland from Hong Kong in 2017 to study Law. For him, it is not so easy to head home.

Us international students are stuck in Belfast. If I go back to Hong Kong I have to be quarantined. It’s just too much trouble.”

If Shing Him returned to Hong Kong, strict government measures mean he would have to go into quarantine for 14 days, in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus. Even without these tight restrictions, flights across the world are extremely limited.

Emirates has stopped all flights. Lots of transfer airports are shut so it would be very difficult to get home”

Shing Him is also a Senior International Ambassador at Queen’s University.

I know a lot of international students are very worried as Boris Johnson has said that you could lose your loved ones. This has scared a lot of them away.”

However, he still has a lot of work to do so is happy to stay in Belfast.

I still have a lot of coursework so that will keep me busy. It’s just too noisy at home and I can’t concentrate there.”

For these students, Northern Ireland now is their homes. They, like many other students, have built up so many jobs, friends and support networks at their universities.

While they and their families do have worries, Belfast remains the place that these students want to be, even when the university is closed.

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