Universities: Lockdown taking its toll as students cope with financial and emotional costs

  • Watch a report from ITV Anglia's Matthew Hudson

While schools have now returned, many university students remain stuck at home and are having to deal with the negative impacts of lockdown on their emotional and financial wellbeing.

A government review is being carried out looking at when a full return might be possible, but for now students on non-practical courses have been instructed to stay put.

Even for those that have returned, like Imogen Morris who studies occupational therapy at the University of East Anglia (UEA), face-to-face teaching time is much reduced.

"You don’t have that personal connection, you don’t get to build that rapport with your peers and your lecturers," she said.

"And there aren’t a lot of opportunities to meet new people either so it can be quite lonely."

Megan Murphy is set to graduate from her radio course at the University of Bedfordshire this summer, and has come to realise "there are a number of people I may not ever see again" because of the lockdown.

She has spent just three weeks on campus this academic year, returning home to Jersey in October with Covid-19 cases rising.

But despite that she has still had to pay for her unused student house.

Ms Murphy said: "I've still been paying my accommodation although I've only spent 21 nights there, and I've already coughed up £6,000, so it's been a lot of money to cough up for nothing.

"Although the university have been really helpful as it's a private accommodation service they can't really get involved too much."

Anger over accommodation prices led to the announcement of rent strikes at UEA, the University of Essex, and the University of Cambridge in January.

Most of the region's institutions did offer some form of rebate or rent freeze for those living in university-owned properties, but for the majority of students who privately rent there has been no relief.

Even before the lockdown much more teaching was being done online, and tutors have had to adapt quickly.

None more so than Terry Lee, who teaches radio to Ms Murphy and her classmates at the University of Bedfordshire.

Where usually students would be taught in a fully operational studio, those on the course have had to install specialist software provided by the university to allow them to broadcast from home.

Mr Lee said the past year had seen some practices developed that might be carried forward once all restrictions are lifted.

He said: "There are advantages, doing remote online learning on zoom, having meetings with people, [the students] can access me, I can get hold of them, they don’t have to travel to and fro.

"So there are some plus points and I guess there are some things we will take into the future as a result of this, but ultimately I’m really looking forward to working with the students face to face again."

The full return of students could come as early as next month, according to plans being formulated by the UEA.

Specific dates were not included in the government's roadmap out of lockdown, but the department for education have announced a review to be completed "by the end of the Easter holidays".

Professor Neil Ward, Deputy Vice Chancellor at the UEA, said: "We understand from what the government’s saying that after the Easter holidays, all being well, we’ll be able to have all of the students back.

"I think there will still be a proportion...that will want to continue to study remotely, but at the moment our default planning is that the vast majority of students will be back after Easter."

Whenever students do eventually return, the disruption of the past year will mean many have missed out on some of the most valuable and enriching experiences that make up a young adult's life.