Students at universities across England have been told they can return home for Christmas between December 3 and 9, in what has been widely dubbed the “student evacuation”. But their fate in January remains uncertain.
Following a term of online classes, coupled with high fees and accommodation costs, some frustrated students have told HuffPost UK they’re considering dropping out by January.
Others are doubtful that lessons will resume as normal in the new year, and are begrudgingly preparing for yet more remote classes.
Either way, it seems that the campus is dead for the class of 2021.
James Taylor, 19, is studying sports strength and conditioning at the University of Gloucestershire and plans to return home to Jersey during the designated period. But he isn’t happy about the way it’s been handled.
“The fact that uni students are getting given a select period to go home is ridiculous. Everyone who goes to uni is over the age of 18 and classified as an adult, yet we’re being treated like school children,” he tells HuffPost UK.
“The fact that I live in Jersey makes it even worse for me, as I’ve now got to change my ferry booking and change the day I’m due to travel.”
After the stress of the first term, Taylor is unsure if he’ll return in January and wonders if taking up full time work would be a “better and happier option”.
“I’m thinking of dropping out as there’s very little communication from the university about what is happening,” he says. “Uni is having effects on everyone’s mental wellbeing. Everyone I’ve spoken to this year is finding it hard to have a drive to achieve.”
Rebecca Wright, 19, from Cardiff, does plan to push forward with her degree at an English university (which she chose not to name). But her continually disrupted first term is making the idea of leaving for good more “attractive”.
She’s only had one hour of face-to-face teaching on campus in two months, yet like students across the country, she’s paying full fees and full accommodation costs.
Wright also believes the travel window is “far too early”, because she has exams beginning the week of December 14. Despite her frustrations, returning home for good and completing her course remotely in 2021 isn’t an option.
“For many of us, we don’t have spaces in our homes that we can do work in and there are far more distractions at home than in uni,” she says. “So it isn’t possible for us to complete these exams and assignments at home.”
Under the proposed system, students at some targeted universities will be encouraged to take a Covid-19 test before returning home – and anyone who tests positive (or has housemates who do) will need to remain put.
Iyobosa Ozigbo, 20, from Islington, London, is worried about the rising number of Covid infections, but she doesn’t want to stay at Birmingham City University, where she studies journalism, for the month of December. “That would break my heart, because I miss my family and it’s the one time I get to go home and be with them,” she says.
Ozigbo has a part-time job working as a sales consultant at Next and she’s unsure what the new guidelines will mean for her role.
She’s submitted a transfer request to move from the Solihull store to a London branch, but at the moment her future employment status is unclear. It’s an extra stress, in an already stressful year.
“This term has been pretty weird. In my opinion, I don’t think it is worth the money I pay, the £9,250, because the majority of it was technically online,” she says. “I don’t really like online teaching, I’m more of a face-to-face person. I don’t think I’ve received the education that I’ve paid for.”
Now in her third year at university, Ozigbo has no intention of dropping out, but is doubtful she’ll be back on campus come January. “I think lockdown will be extended,” she says. “Part of me is happy to return, however I do think that the second semester will be online.”
Every student experience is different, of course, and some people are happy to be returning after Christmas. Daniel Williams, 23, from West London, has been impressed with how the University of Southampton has handled the pandemic so far.
Williams is studying for a masters in Chemistry and large portions of his degree are lab-based, so going fully remote was never an option.
“I honestly have no qualms about returning. This term has gone well so far, the uni is ‘Covid secure’, lectures are online and I only go to campus for lab work,” he tells HuffPost. “We have limits on how many people are allowed in a lab at a time, and masks have to be worn in write-up areas. I’m working around the same small cluster of people each time I go in, so it’s probably safer than most workplaces.”
The university also has a weekly saliva testing programme run in partnership with the city council, and students get results within 48 hours of testing.
The government insists a return to campus will be possible in the new year, with a statement on its website declaring: “We are looking to utilise mass testing to make the return to higher education as safe as possible, and will provide further guidance in due course.”
Given its track record on delivering mass testing, though, a lot of students are holding their breath.