By Anna Alford: Culture Columnist

What the Shift online Means to University Students across the UK…

University is the place you make your friends for life, learn how to use a washing machine and rack up an unnerving, yet impressive, overdraft. After three or four long years you’ll be spewed out the other end with a decent grade, if you’re lucky. But, with continued social distancing measures and a vaccine not looking likely until at least next Spring, the university experience is not going to look how students expect for some time.

For when you do have time to fit in some learning, nothing compares to a classroom education, right? Meeting people in person adds more value to the conversation, meliorates independence and confidence and assists in the development of important life skills like teamwork and organisation.

Many millions of students have taken their learning online globally during 2020

Others argue that online education widens its accessibility to those who would otherwise not be able to go and allows students to be more flexible with their learning schedules. The switch may be easy for second or third years who have experience with independent learning, but this is not viable for new students fresh from the spoon-fed completion of their A levels.

Ollie, an Arts and Sciences student at UCL, highlights the importance of visceral expression and debate in a physical space, saying ‘meeting people face to face and having academic discussions is where the inspiring parts of university are for me’. This is something that would prove difficult over a Zoom call with video distortion, awkward sound delays and students in different time zones.

The sudden move online led to almost 350,000 people from across the UK signing a petition calling for a reimbursement of tuition fees for all students due to this year’s pandemic, a large margin above the 100,000 needed for parliament to consider it for debate.

Ollie supports the notion that a ‘marketized education’ is something we shouldn’t be encouraging, but notes that most universities ‘would go bust’ if students were offered compensation or a refund on their tuition fees.

Izzy, a Civil Engineering student at Bristol University, somewhat agrees. ‘Lecturers have probably had to work harder to deal with the disruption from last term’, but if university continues to be online next year, she would expect a reduction in fees as ‘they will have to pay less for things such as maintenance of buildings’.

She continues, ‘it’s annoying not being able to use particular software’, only accessible in specialist IT suites and university libraries, and ‘not having the space to build prototypes and models’, all things essential for her course. Although she finishes by recognising that universities ‘probably need the money’, due to the probability that fewer international students will return in the autumn.

British universities are increasingly reliant on international student fees, with over 90,000 students from China, South Korea and other affected areas previously expected to roll up to British campuses in September.

Up to 80% of these are likely not to turn up come the autumn, with continued travel restrictions and measures.

The UK economy as a whole would suffer a loss of hundreds of millions of pounds due to lost revenue from travel, accommodation and living expenses that would have been spent by students coming in from other countries.

A further shake up will arise from the fact that most young people do not attend universities in their own towns, having the potential to dramatically alter the economy of university towns and cities that would usually be heavily populated by students.

Cardiff university has recently invested £600m modernising their campus, transforming it ‘for the 21st century’. These brand-new builds face months if not an entire year of vacancy if social distancing measures prevail, with a second spike predicted in the coming months.

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