By Flossie Palmer, Features Subeditor
With COVID-19 subverting our day to day lifestyles, from our weekly shops to our frequent socialising, it was unlikely that our usual University experience will remain unaffected. Considering the government’s social distancing rules, a Freshers’ Week operating within the current two metre guidelines is just as unlikely.
Incoming students for the academic year 2020/2021 are facing an important decision – defer a year to avoid missing out on the typical University experience? Or to continue as planned? The Guardian reports that one in five students across the UK are more inclined to defer if University teaching is delivered online because of the pandemic.
UK Universities have been quick to respond to hesitation about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect teaching, with the likes of Cambridge University offering a ‘blended learning’ approach; all lectures will be moved online and integrated with in-person seminars and tutorials where possible.
This approach has also been adopted by the University of Manchester, alongside the closing of their non-essential facilities and cancelling of on-campus events. With the release of these new teaching measures for Autumn 2020, the following question is raised – what does the University of Bristol plan to do during these unprecedented circumstances?
The University have released their current plans for the next academic year following the coronavirus pandemic, with term beginning on the delayed date of 5 October for undergraduate students and 19 October for postgraduate students.
Teaching provisions follow similar adaptions to other UK Universities, by proposing a ‘blend of high-quality on-campus and online education’, with lectures moving online and lab classes, tutorials and seminars continuing in person where possible.
Social distancing will also be maintained by implementing queues, distance markers, one-way systems and hand sanitising stations in on-campus locations. By outlining these teaching plans and safety guidelines, the University is prioritising both the academic interests and wellbeing of its students.
I don't think it's reasonable for UK universities to expect offer holders who are At Risk to risk their lives just to keep their offers. It may be for for profit-based reasons that they don't allow deferrals. But if At Risk students end up dead, that's on them. #Covid19UK— Boo Sujiwaro 👻 is ON HIATUS* (@pacemori) June 29, 2020
But despite the University’s reassurance that all students will receive high quality teaching, not everyone is convinced. Modern Languages applicant, Grace, is among these students after deciding to defer a year – a decision influenced by the University of Bristol’s move to online teaching.
Grace raised concerns with Epigram over the quality of online teaching as she felt she would ‘struggle to engage’ with it, especially as ‘it is very difficult to learn languages online.’ Although the move to online lectures is universal across all University of Bristol courses, it is likely that this new method of teaching will not affect some courses as much as others.
For more independent research and reading led courses such as Humanities, online teaching is likely to have a lesser negative impact than on more practical based subjects.
Social distancing will also be maintained by implementing queues, distance markers, one-way systems and hand sanitising stations in on-campus locations.
Socialising, as part of the stereotypical University experience, has also fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the recent re-opening of pubs on 4 July 2020, the club scene remains inaccessible.
With the government having advised a ‘one metre plus’ distance rule still in place, the safe re-opening of clubs in time for Fresher’s Week is unlikely, meaning that all incoming students will face a rather different first year experience than expected. While this may be a large factor in impacting students’ decisions to defer, Politics and International Relations applicant Caroline, stated that she has ‘accepted that my first-year experience will be far from what I had imagined.’
Another applicant, Ollie, has also accepted the impact coronavirus is going to have on his social life at University, expressing hope that he will be able to make new friends through his accommodation and society sports teams.
I predict UK universities will put in place significant restrictions on deferrals to manage risk. University is now more about getting the education (and some training) and less about the experience - for better or for worse.— Richard Paige (@richpaige) May 20, 2020
A Bristol SU spokesperson told Epigram that whilst details are yet to be confirmed about Welcome Week arrangements, its aim will still be ‘connecting students to each other, building a sense of community and connection to the city and to replicate where possible all the aspects of Welcome Week that make it so amazing.’
London Economics conducted a survey among UK home students, reporting that the rate of students going to University would likely be reduced to 72 percent if Universities adapted their teaching arrangements according to coronavirus safety restrictions. This means the potential deferral rate across UK home students will be 17 percent higher than previous years.
However, UCAS has recently reported that 514,020 have applied for an undergraduate course this year – an increase of 1.6% from last year.
This is reinforced by a University of Bristol spokesperson who stated that the University has ‘actually seen less deferral requests so far this year than at this stage in previous years and more people requesting ‘un-deferrals’, offering interruptions to gap year travel plans as a possible reason for this.
It is likely that this new method of teaching will not affect some courses as much as others.
While concerns about missing out on the typical Fresher’s Week and facing an atypical approach to learning may influence deferral rates, it is clear that this decision is much more complicated.
Considering the uncertainty of the academic year ahead, incoming students face a personal challenge to the expected University norm. Yet, with the rest of the world adapting around us, hopefully University level education will follow suit with the best interests and safety of its students at the forefront.
Featured Image: Unsplash / Fallon Michael
Do you know someone who is deferring?