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Guest Post: British universities should give clarity, says Peterborough student

British university students like Jack Booth, from Peterborough, have many questions about how coronavirus will impact their studies.
Students like Jack need to know what cancelling the remainder of the year will mean for his future (Photo: Pixabay)

COVID-19. The pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill. On a global rampage, the coronavirus has conquered almost every civilisation hotspot on this planet. Shops have closed, businesses are facing bankruptcy and populations are forced to stay inside, forfeiting the first signs of nice weather our spring has to offer.

But what does this mean for us, the students of Great Britain? At the time in our lives where we experience the most change, the most uncertainty and consequently the most anxiety, we are left in the dark as to what we should be doing, need to be doing and how to do it. 

Imagine growing up, gazing at the mantelpiece pictures of family members in their graduation gowns, beaming with pride and self-gratification as close friends and family congratulate them on their achievement. Imagine then taking your first steps in following their footsteps: moving away from home, embracing the copious sum of debt and working tirelessly for three years to have your own picture placed upon that mantelpiece. To feel the same sense of pride your family members did before you.

Now imagine that picture being taken away, being stolen from you in the closing months of your degree because your university cancel the remainder of the year due to “the latest government advice”. We are deflated. We are upset. Perhaps most significantly, we are scared. 

I never appreciated the stress and strain of university until it was my turn to experience it. I think people forget that it’s not just a degree. In fact, your degree is quite often only the base layer in a Jenga tower of emotions and worries, swaying menacingly as every move you make risks everything crashing down on top of you.

What really gets you down is the budgeting, paying rent for overpriced housing to landlords who often con you into paying extra, taking advantage of your inexperience to gain a larger income for themselves.

It’s the distance you are from your family, the people who have supported you throughout your upbringing. I study in Southampton. If I have a tough week, or feel helpless after struggling with an assignment, I can’t come home for a cuddle or a cry to my mum. I can’t come back for a laugh with my dad. I have to find comfort in the people around me, which for the most part is manageable under normal circumstances. However, in light of recent events I’ve had to sacrifice the luxury of relying on my friends due to self-isolation. We all have - and the toll this is taking on our mental health is harrowing. 

I think the primary concern with the coronavirus is that everything past the present point in time is an uncertainty.

We don’t know if we are going to complete this academic year, we don’t know if we should be working towards our summer exams (my university has not made a decision yet as to whether they are going to commence or not) and we don’t know if we are going to be able to afford to keep studying.

A vast number of students rely on additional funding on top of their maintenance loans to pay for living, whether it be from family members, a bursary or part time work. With the nation on lockdown and the current scarceness of paid employment, anxiety levels are through the roof for us students.

Thankfully, my university has a fantastic helpline service for students who are struggling with their mental health. Nevertheless, in my friendship group I am still seeing and experiencing first-hand the consequences that this concerning period brings, whether it be an unceasing loll of nausea, self-harming or, in the worst-case scenario, suicidal thoughts. 

We all want this crisis to pass. We all want as many people to be safe as possible. But what we need is clarity.

We need to know whether our assignments are still valid. We need to know whether our exams are going ahead. We need to know whether we are still expected to pay rent for a house we might not even be living in next term. Most importantly, though, we need to know whether our pictures will be up on that mantelpiece, because three years of hard work and anxiety is a big sacrifice for a PDF certificate at a Skype graduation.