Students have been forgotten – no wonder we’re tempted to ignore government guidance and return to university

Students are being punished for following the rules – if I remain at home, I will be wasting more than £1000 on an empty room, all the while missing out on the university experience

Sabrina Miller
Tuesday 12 January 2021 15:34
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<p>‘It’s hard to reason why I should disadvantage myself academically by remaining at home, when my university is refusing to protect my grades’</p>

‘It’s hard to reason why I should disadvantage myself academically by remaining at home, when my university is refusing to protect my grades’

When Boris Johnson plunged the country into a third national lockdown on 4 January, he failed to mention the word “university”. Students like me were made to feel like an afterthought.  

Guidance was released later the same evening, stating that those studying subjects that necessitate in-person teaching, such as medicine, would be allowed back to university, whereas those like me – an English student at the University of Bristol – should “remain where they are wherever possible”.  

My friends and I started to panic. When we went home for the Christmas holidays, we were promised we would be able to return in January. It never crossed our minds that we wouldn’t be allowed back – so much so that I left all of my books and notes in my university desk drawers. Certain friends of mine only brought back enough essential medication to last the holidays.  

I’m left struggling to understand how – or why – the government insists that I do not return. My university house is my home. I am currently in my third and final year and am desperate to salvage my final months, not least because this term is the last chance I have to spend time with my friends before graduation. Socially, this year has been a nightmare – though my flatmates have been an essential lifeline. They’ve supported me, motivated me and kept my spirits high.

As a household, we’ve done our best to recreate some semblance of the “normal university experience”. We’ve had wine and cheese nights, cooked Friday night dinners together and even started going on group runs. These invaluable outlets have kept me sane. Unfortunately, at home I am completely cut off from anyone my age, and it’s miserable.  

I love my family and I enjoyed being home for Chanukah, but it’s time for me to get back to work. The idea of sitting in my room every day for the next month and a half,  with no real contact with my course mates or friends, is anxiety-inducing.  

At university, I live with two students on my course. We often watch lectures together, support each other and proofread each other’s essays. I am worried my academic work will suffer without their support.  

Ignoring government guidance is not a decision I take lightly. Nonetheless, students are effectively being punished for following the rules. If I follow advice and remain at home, I will be wasting more than £1000 on an empty room that no one will refund (Citizens Advice says you are liable for any rent due until the end of your fixed term, though you may be able to end your contract early). I’m worried that I will be risking my sanity and the quality of my academic work if I don’t return. 

The Russell Group of research-led British universities recently announced that they will not be offering a “no detriment”, or “safety net” policy when marking students’ work this year, despite the pandemic. This decision is incredibly frustrating. It’s hard to reason why I should disadvantage myself academically by remaining at home, when my university is refusing to protect my grades. I understand that the situation has been incredibly challenging for teaching staff, but it feels like universities are completely ignoring the needs of students.

I am not the only student to feel like this. Many of my peers have expressed their outrage on social media. One student posted a video on TikTok encouraging students to send a private message to Boris Johnson on Instagram and vent their anger. Another wrote on Twitter: “Uni students don’t exist to Boris unless he wants to blame us for something.” Others have called for a 2021 rent strike. 

There has been a huge erosion of trust between students and the government, and most of us are now at breaking point. My university friends are the best support network I’ve got. I don’t know what I will do without them.  

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