The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented. There is a national crisis, and no one seems to know the best way to react, or the most supportive way to deal with the situation.
Children are being kept at home away from school, with teenagers undertaking their GCSEs and A levels excused from exams. Adults in full time jobs (apart from the most heroic working in key roles) are working from home or have been placed on furlough. It seems as though the whole country is at a standstill right now.
Any individual who has ever attempted a degree, including me, will tell you that it is not easy, nor is it something to be undertaken lightly. It requires dedication and persistence – but everyone willingly accepts this as necessary to reach the desired end goal.
Not one single person agreed to undertake an undergraduate degree and complete it with the same level of tenacity and ability while a highly contagious virus rips through the world.
Not every student experience is equal
There is an overwhelming amount of discussion regarding no detriment policies; take home exams; extensions of deadlines and many other measures that appear to be very inclusive and understanding of the situations that may be affecting students. Yet when you delve deeper into these policies you begin to realise that they come from a privileged perspective.
Many students I know solely rely on resources provided by their university, such as computers, in order to complete their assignments. Some students do not have any form of laptop or desktop at home because they do not have the money to purchase one. Alternatively, they may be unable to gather the necessary finances to replace or repair any broken resources. I think that many people in this situation are feeling as if they have been forgotten about. The idea that less affluent people are attempting to get degrees appears to be unfathomable.
It is difficult seeing other students go home to their middle-class houses, with everything they may need at their fingertips while struggling to make ends meet – stuck in a student house hundreds of miles away from any family because the part-time job you need to keep you going is in your university town and could reopen at any time.
As if that is not daunting enough, students’ mental health is suffering more than ever before. The pressure on students is abnormal in the best of circumstances; we have all felt it at one time or another, but this time of year is typically the most stressful for anyone involved in education.
Some are able to get on with things as usual. And some students in the final year of their degree will not graduate because they cannot face doing any sort of work while this pandemic is occurring.
What we lost to Covid-19
The overwhelming temptation is for me to stand on a rooftop somewhere and scream, “this is not fair”. How can I be expected to write a ten-thousand-word dissertation when I’m struggling to cope with everyday life and still be alive at the end of it?
I am currently living in and paying for a student house, miles away from my family. My whole support network, found within my university via my tutors and my friends, has disappeared into thin air. While I am lucky to not be completely alone, there are some who are. Some students are trying to do everything they can in order to get the degree they have worked towards for multiple years. Even some of my strongest and most optimistic friends are struggling in this environment.
I have been working for three years at university level studying law; prior to that I studied law for two years at A level. All of this hard work has been undertaken while looking toward the graduation ceremony, which I will never get. I will never get to graduate in the summer, with my friends from the last three years around me and my father and best friend in the crowd being proud of me. It has all been ripped away. The sense of anticlimax is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I’m not claiming that there is a magic wand which can be waved, and everything solved. No one is asking for their degree without having to work for it. I find being a student strange in ways I cannot explain succinctly. I am not viewed as a child, yet I am not quite viewed as knowledgeable enough to be an adult. Still I feel as though I have been placed under pressure to achieve and now to continue achieving at the same level as I have been – which is the most unfair expectation of somebody during a crisis.
Students are struggling. My friends are struggling, and I am struggling. I am one dissertation, one ten-page essay and one exam away from completing my degree. I am aware of how quickly I could get all of this done, I have a new laptop; I have a study area within my house; and I really, truly, have the most supportive friends around me who will pick up the phone at any time of the day to talk to me. Yet I am still struggling.
I cannot help but think of those less lucky than myself and I wish I had a way of fixing it all, but I do not. Many people are feeling the sadness, and people are dying, which is undoubtedly the bigger picture. Nonetheless, it is hard not to think about the people that Covid-19 is affecting without even infecting them.