I’ve spent years working towards my degree. Now Covid-19 has thrown students off track

Final-year law student Jessica Davies reflects on all the plans and experiences students have lost to Covid-19.

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.

3 responses to “I’ve spent years working towards my degree. Now Covid-19 has thrown students off track

  1. I agree, final years students have lost out the most. Most of them will have been looking forward to graduation over the summer – could Reading not arrange graduation for another time e.g. when we are back to normal? I know some universities are already putting plans in place as of course all students who have studied for 3 or 4 years want their ‘moment in time’; as you say Jessica you want your father and best friend to stand there and be proud of you (by the way they will be whether there is a graduation ceremony or not :))

    It’s not as easy as just studying or taking exams on line, all students are having to deal with their own anxieties about this crisis. Some have families who work in the NHS, others are actually working there themselves doing what they can, others have families who have lost their jobs. Some are probably trying to support parents with younger siblings and like you say many rely on university resources because they do not have the money to buy their own. Everyday we are told about more statistics, they are never-ending but all these statistics are real people and loved ones lost. As you say even those who are not infected with the virus are still affected be it in different ways but I think many of us feel that we are the lucky ones – we are still here and have a future however fragile that may seem at the moment.

  2. I’m a final year healthcare student trying to complete my final placement, write a dissertation and homeschool 3 children as well as keep paying the bills and keep food on the table. Nobody said it would be easy but I didn’t expect it to be quite so hard.
    I don’t even know if our cohort will even see each other again, some of them have jobs back in home towns which could make it impossible to meet up if we don’t have a graduation ceremony. I was looking forward to showing my children what I’ve achieved by making them part of the day.
    I feel I’ve overcome so much to get this far and now the expectations have grown massively while the time available has shrunk immeasurably due to other unexpected commitments.
    Yes it is unfair.

  3. You’re right, it’s not fair. And how refreshing, and positive, to read a blog where you’re not actually trying to find someone to blame (or, worse, just blaming someone). We all – all who work in and around HE – have an absolute duty to try to minimise this unfairness, within the limitations that are currently imposed on us. It’s not easy, but we must always bear in mind that truly, it’s not fair. I really hope that you continue to be supported by your friends, that you get your moment of glory at Graduation – and that you go on to great things, whatever path you choose.

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