University Students React To Boris Johnson’s ‘Infuriating’ Lockdown Announcement
Last night, January 4, Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown in England – almost a year since coronavirus first began to spread across the globe.
During his speech, the prime minister said people should only go out when absolutely necessary, stating that the measures would likely be in place until at least mid-February as the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine are rolled out.
He addressed employees, urging people to work from home wherever possible, as well as vulnerable people, key workers, parents, and nursery, primary, secondary and college-level students.
However, Johnson failed to mention how the new lockdown would impact university students; those living away from home, paying hefty fees for their education and being forced to adapt to a new way of studying while still producing high-quality work.
Lucy Hill, a 25-year-old student at the University of Salford, expressed her anger at the fact that university students have been ‘completely ignored throughout this whole entire pandemic’.
She noted that the only time the government mentioned university students was when it encouraged them to return to campus, after which students were ‘basically blamed for the second wave’ of coronavirus.
Johnny Jenkins, a 20-year-old student at the University of Warwick, reiterated these frustrations, telling UNILAD he was ‘very disappointed’ at Johnson’s failure to mention universities in his address.
He found friends turning to him for the explanation that Johnson failed to provide, and noted that a lot of his fellow students only found out their course was moving online because Johnny found the government guidance online and tweeted it out.
Joseph, a podcaster and student at the University of Sussex, told UNILAD that Johnson’s lack of recognition was ‘extremely disheartening’, saying:
When I watched the prime minister’s message I was waiting for just a slight mention of university students, as it seems he has only mentioned us to encourage us to move back to our university residencies and then consequently blame us for the spike in the virus.
At this point it is extremely disheartening and I think a lot of us feel left in the dark.
When Boris addresses the nation and speaks of sticking together but proceeds to not mention universities or students once it can become not just infuriating but extremely draining, as once again it feels as if we have been forgotten and are left to fend for ourselves.
Joseph told UNILAD that he is not trying to imply university students have had it worse than other people struggling during the pandemic, but stressed that most students are ‘paying for accommodation [they] have been told not to live in and paying the full amount for a course that looks nothing like it did when [they] applied for it’.
Following Johnson’s address, Joseph received communication from his university explaining that students would not be allowed back on campus except for in a few select circumstances. As a media production student who expected a ‘creative hands-on course’, this is particularly frustrating for Joseph.
Before the March lockdown I was working on two projects [and was] well into the creative process, but then everything had to be readjusted and changed to fit the new circumstances.
This meant the short documentary being made was then scrapped and an essay about what would have been done was put in place. So, in other words, the creative hand-on course advertised had now changed.
As much as the university have tried to adjust the course, it is just not the same with online teaching.
Joseph said his university initially attempted to make up for the changes by putting a ‘No Detriment’ policy in place, meaning students wouldn’t be graded lower than the average grade they received the previous term. He expressed his belief that ‘given the circumstances’, universities ‘did a good job in looking out for students even though the course was no longer the same’.
Lucy received a similar safety net from her university, which she acknowledged has been ‘really helpful and supportive’ throughout the pandemic. The student was able to borrow a laptop when her own stopped working, and she had access to a ‘great counselling service’ to help answer her questions and deal with her anxiety.
In spite of the university’s efforts, however, Lucy believes UK universities ‘should have been kept in the loop with government guidance’ to help both employees and students adjust. She commented, ‘Just because university education is not compulsory does not make it any less important.’
Johnny is yet to receive any communication from his university about how the new lockdown will impact students, and he too acknowledged that he ‘won’t be getting the same quality of education studying remotely’. As a result, he says it ‘doesn’t seem fair’ to have to pay more than £9,000 per year ‘for a degree method that [he] didn’t sign up to’.
When the first national lockdown was introduced in March, Johnny was at home in Essex visiting his family. He had originally intended only to be there for a few weeks, but ended up staying at home until October as his exams were cancelled and his coursework load doubled.
In October he returned to classes thatwere 50% online and 50% in-person, but he is now back with his family, with who he plans to ride out the latest lockdown. Despite living at home, Johnny still has to pay more than £120 per week for his university accommodation, which he is ‘not legally allowed to visit’ due to lockdown rules.
Though Joseph commended his university for the way it adjusted to lockdown rules, he expressed similar dismay at having to pay full price for a course that was ‘not what was advertised to any of us’.
If students were aware their course would be 100% online, I guarantee the majority would never have started university in the first place.
I want to reiterate; every student understands there needs to be a lockdown and that we are at a critical point at the moment, therefore we all know our courses will need to adapt to the circumstances. But, no one can explain to me how we are still expected to pay the full amount for a course that is not the same…
I understand the university has no control over the lockdowns and the pandemic as a whole, but this doesn’t excuse it from still accepting the full sum of money when we are not getting the full service that was advertised.
With the return to normality still some way off, Joseph admitted that he fears for thousands of students’ mental health at the moment and in the coming months due to the inability to see their families, fearing for their health and wellbeing and still being expected to complete ‘the same level of work as before’.
After months of dealing with the pandemic, Lucy expressed her opinion that the government ‘could have done more’ to inform students about what would be happening during each lockdown, rather than ‘just leaving [them] to [their] own devices’.
She praised lecturers and universities for ‘trying to make sure that they can carry out teaching as safely as possible’, and said Johnson should have acknowledged them in his speech, too. In spite of this, Lucy stressed that she ‘will not let [Johnson] and his lack of support or direction when it comes to advising us get in the way’.
No U-turns from me, I will be taking the straight, direct route… and getting this degree! I am looking forward to getting the vaccine and seeing us all get back to some sense of normality in the future, whenever that may be.
Lucy admitted that it feels ‘strange’ to know she will have completed her final year of university ‘either in full lockdown or with the country in tiers’, but she knows she can hold her head high knowing that she completed her work to the best of her ability, even during a global pandemic.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.