Coronavirus: What's life like for university students and lecturers during Freshers week?

Student Uta Tsukada-Bright (left) and lecturer Kam Rehal (right) spoke to ITV News about how they are adapting to life at university Credit: Uta Tsukada-Bright/ University of Greenwich
  • Words by ITV News multimedia journalist Charlie Bayliss

Freshers week for thousands of university students across the country typically would involve nights out, making friends and getting to grips with your new surroundings.

Coronavirus has stifled normal university life and the rule of six makes it difficult for the hundreds of students living together in halls to meet with one another.

The pandemic has also had a major impact on teaching and how lectures are carried out in campuses nationwide.

Around 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University have been told to self-isolate after 127 of them tested positive for coronavirus.

While earlier this week, a Covid-19 outbreak at Glasgow University this week shows just how precarious life is for students and lecturers alike, after more than 100 people tested positive and nearly 600 people are now self-isolating.

With many students just finishing their first week, ITV News has spoken to a first year student and lecturer at different universities to find out just how Covid-19 has affected their lives.

'It's been hard... but we still have opportunities to meet people'

Uta Tsukada-Bright has just started her journalism degree at Leeds University this week.

She has just moved into university halls but already the experience has been different to years gone by.

“It’s been hard to make loads of friends. It’s been different because normally you’d go round meeting loads of people,” she told ITV News.

“We still have opportunities to meet people but its more contained."

Along with her housemates, she has been to bars in the city but the restrictions have limited what they can and can't do.

“We’ve been to a few pubs but they’re quite strict," she said. One of my friends lives in a flat with 10 people and they went to a bar, thinking if they split into a table of six and a four that they’d be allowed in, but when they got to the pub, they said they couldn’t.”

Uta has just started an undergraduate journalism course at Leeds University.

Uta said large groups have been meeting outside their halls, despite the new rule of six, which has led to university security breaking up the gatherings.

“The accommodation I’m in is known for being quite sociable. You’ll see large groups of people outside almost every night and the security come and break the groups up, but then they just end up coming together again.

“It’s been relaxed in a way,” she said.

Yesterday, some of the staff were checking to see if there were more than five people in each flat.

Uta Tsukada-Bright

“A lot of people haven’t been following the rules but I also think its the government rules to blame. They keep changing and the government haven’t been solid with their plans so people might not be taking it seriously.

“Yesterday, some of the staff were checking to see if there were more than five people in each flat.”

'It's hard to connect with the online lectures'

When it comes to lectures, one of the most difficult things has been adapting the online learning.

So far, all of Uta’s lectures have been digital.

“All the lectures have been online and it’s been hard to connect with the lecture and understand what the tutor is saying,” she said.

“We’ve all found it quite hard to pay attention to what’s going on. If it was all in person I think it’d be a lot different.”

Uta said she has still been able to meet new people and make new friends despite the restrictions in place. Credit: Uta Tsukada-Bright/ ITV News

Even with all the confusion of how coronavirus restrictions may impact her studies, Uta said she was enjoying her university experience so far.

“After lockdown and living it home, its been really nice to have a change of scenery. I come from a small town so living in the city, even if there are restrictions, its still been really fun.”

'It's important to keep students engaged'

Kam Rehal, a graphic and digital design lecturer at Greenwich University, has been busy preparing for the return of students since lockdown in March.

Along with the health and safety team from the university, he and other lecturers have been forced to adapt their teaching methods to ensure they are Covid safe.

“We’ve got an amazing facilities group and planning group who have been playing a huge role in getting us back again.

Kam Rehal is Programme Leader for BA(Hons) and HND Graphic and Digital Design. Credit: University of Greenwich

“It’s really important for us to keep everyone engaged in a tacit understanding of design. Making is such a huge part of what we do as a discipline and that’s something we wanted to keep alive.”

Multiple measures have been put in place across the university, including limiting capacity in the building where he teaches to just 25%, making students wear masks during lectures and one-way systems throughout the building to limit the spread of the virus.

In addition, only one year group is allowed in the building each day so that if there were an outbreak, it would limit the number of year groups who may have to self-isolate, thereby limiting disruption to other students.

Less face-to-face interactions and double the space

“Normally on a given day we’d have to or three (year groups in the building). We’re alternating weeks in terms of who comes in when,” he told ITV News.

“If they were in for three-and-a-half days a week, now they’re in one-and-a-half or two days a week.”

Kam's course contains practical elements which requires face-to-face interaction with students, those classes have been moved to bigger lecture halls to ensure social distancing measures are respected.

“Traditionally a year one cohort would start at around 70 students and we normally have those students spread out across an open plan studio space.

“If we normally use two studios, what we’ve done this year is expand the space to be four studios for the same number of students,” he said.

Coronavirus has had a huge impact on university life. Credit: PA

“We’re using technology like microphone speakers and using things like Microsoft Teams so that students across the space can be looking and hearing what’s going on.”

'Being in a space together propels their thinking in a way perhaps online struggles with in some ways'

Around half of the lectures are now online with the other half requiring face-to-face interaction.

Despite the various hurdles both he and the university has had to overcome, Kam has enjoyed having students back in classes learning again.

He said: “It puts into perspective why we do this. My own experience has been doing multiple jobs all at once because suddenly its childcare, research and planning wrapped into one.

“I’m really excited and relieved to be back in the building, even if its with all these measures and restrictions in place. This week’s been such a pleasure to be with students again.

“Being in a space together propels their thinking in a way perhaps online struggles with in some ways.”