‘This time period’s been tough emotionally’: the scholars heading dwelling for Christmas | Universities
IIt’s been a long, often lonely tenure for Helen Ross, who has spent most of it locked up in her cramped Glasgow college student apartment with just one friend and studying law in her bedroom. She is looking forward to seeing her mother again for Christmas, but is excited to return to Ullapool, her remote hometown of 1,500 people in the highlands. “I don’t think I can handle knowing that I brought the virus into a fragile and valuable community and into my family,” she says.
Ross is taking all possible precautions: she self-isolated and is being driven north by a friend’s mother after a coronavirus test. She wants to spend time with her mother, an exhausted NHS worker who lives alone after her husband – Helen’s father – passed away during Helen’s freshman week. “She survived the last slog of the year and was looking forward to having me,” she says.
This weekend, many students like Helen will get on trains and drive their parents’ cars when they drive home for Christmas after a difficult first semester at university. In England they have been instructed to observe a travel window, which runs from December 3rd to December 9th.
Students were asked to secure a negative coronavirus test before leaving. However, since these are not compulsory and a positive result forces them to spend another fourteen days on campus in a self-isolating manner, many refuse. A survey of 1,000 students by the marketing agency Hype Collective found that 31% do not plan to take a test.
“Personally, I don’t know anyone who books one because if it’s positive that you’re here alone for longer, they’d rather not know,” says Rosie Tiffin, a freshman at the University of Manchester.
Even if students want a test, the National Union of Students is concerned that they will not have access to it due to capacity issues, and there is uncertainty about what will happen if the result is positive.
“If students have to self-isolate, there is currently no guaranteed government or university support for them. Students are wrongly excluded from the £ 500 self-isolation payment and, as SAGE has found, financial uncertainty means people can struggle to fully meet the requirements, ”said Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice president of higher education at NUS.
Finances are an issue for Rosie, whose priority is to return to her hometown of Huntingdon to get back to work for two local pubs and get out of her overdraft. “I originally expected to get a temporary job in Manchester, but then Covid happened and Lockdown ruined it,” she says.
Rosie also wants to celebrate her December birthday with friends at home, as she has difficulties finding her tribe at the university due to a social circle restricted by the Covid rules. It has been difficult for her to find someone to look for a student apartment with for the next year, a concern that threatens to disrupt her Christmas vacation. “Everyone in my halls has decided on their groups and accommodation for the next year, which they should do early on, and I didn’t take part. It can be isolating, ”she says.
The silver lining for Rosie is that she enjoys her class. However, this is not the case for all. A recent survey of over 1,000 students conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that just over half are satisfied with their online classes, while a similar proportion said they were concerned about returning to semester next year.
This is a concern for Lauren Power, a sophomore at Bath Spa whose childhood home is in rural Derbyshire. She fears the government’s plans to postpone the return of 1.2 million students to English universities until Feb. 7, and study online at home in the meantime, could result in them getting caught up on the shaky WiFi connection her family will log into her lectures.
While there will be exceptions for students who need them – the campus will remain open to homeless students, such as caregivers and those alienated from their families – she feels that there is not enough communication with them gives students about what to expect from returning to university.
“I’m in dormitories and they want us to book a slot to move out and for us to book slots to come back, but we don’t have any information about when to book them, which is not very helpful to get trains in advance to book so that they are as cheap as possible, ”she says.
While there have been concerns that students might drop out, the latest numbers from Student Finance England suggest the numbers are below last year’s. 5,500 students are retiring from their courses this fall, compared to 6,100 last year. However, these numbers only cover the period up to November 29th, and concerns among universities remain that some students may not return after the Christmas break.
Ellie Joliffe is one of the students who dropped out in November. “The combination of the debilitating effects of the virus with complete social isolation closely monitored by security guards created a hostile and undesirable environment to tackle some of the most challenging academic work I’ve ever done,” she says. “Freshman week wasn’t something I expected, but I couldn’t imagine being locked in my university room without even having access to the kitchen.”
While this won’t be the case for many students, it was the right decision for Ellie. She has secured a job as a nursing assistant and is making preliminary travel plans for the next year. She even chose to switch her degree to a five-week intro program at a radically new university, the London Interdisciplinary School, that blends art, science and business.
For those students who wish to stay, several weeks with their families are a welcome break from isolation and online learning. But Helen is concerned about where she will return to. “I’m worried about the next term because it was emotionally rough. I was just on the autopilot and just studying, ”she says. “I just think it’s going to be tough for my sanity.”