Opinion | First year students have been deprived of a traditional University experience


By Helen Clark, Third Year, Criminology

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly transformed the lives of students, from online learning, social restrictions, to closures of pubs and nightclubs. It goes without saying that we have been greeted with a significantly different University experience this past year, and whilst I am sure the current first year students have adapted accordingly, there is a sadness that accompanies this truth.

They have not been able to experience the joy of Alter Ego’s karaoke nights, the inescapable queues of Monday nights at the Brass Pig or the friendships that blossom in the Gravity smoking area.

Yet, it is not only the traditional party culture that first years have admittedly missed out on this year. First year students in halls have been restricted massively in their socialising, and this understandably can result in feelings of anxiety and isolation.

'First year students in halls have been restricted massively in their socialising' | Epigram / Lucy O'Neill

Whilst I’m sure friendships have been made, housing contracts signed and WhatsApp groups joined, the social implications that the lockdown has enforced means that first years aren’t able to expand their friendship groups, being unable to visit other halls of residence or meet up with course friends.

For those struggling in the all-too-familiar panic of finding housing and housemates for their second year, these restrictions can really affect their mental health, and their university experience as a whole.

During a time in which the future holds large amounts of uncertainty for all students, the added pressure of the housing process for first years who are not able to expand their friendships is particularly stressful.

Most first year students have not experienced the well-known commute into Uni

Your first year of university usually revolves around making friends, learning about the city and adapting to more of an independent lifestyle. For current first year students, this sadly is not the case. Being limited to corridors for social bubbles, unable to go out in the evenings to pubs and clubs and generally being limited in their social interaction, will have had a huge impact on their experience.

The shift to online learning has transformed both our access to resources and our learning experiences. Whilst many prefer participating in seminars and lectures from the comfort of their own home, others (like me) dread each session, and live in fear of the break-out room extravaganza.  A year ago, I would have much preferred the idea of not having to attend 9ams on a Monday morning, yet I now find myself yearning for a 9am in-person class.

Most first year students have not experienced the well-known commute into Uni, and thus have been deprived of the sense of accomplishment and productivity that is encompassed within in-person attendance.

The lack of in-person teaching has been challenging for those of us accustomed to university before the pandemic

There is an extent of comradery that resides in these bleak Monday mornings as you walk amongst other students who are half-asleep, sluggishly treading to their dreaded 9ams. This is just another essential university experience that the current first years have not been able to enjoy fully.

A huge part of the university experience in Bristol is being able to explore the wonderful city. Sadly, the rules that limit outdoor activity to exercise, inevitably hinder a student’s ability to hop on a bus and spend the day exploring, meaning that many first years have not been able to fully appreciate how beautiful the city of Bristol is.

The lack of in-person teaching has been challenging for those of us accustomed to university before the pandemic, as the ease of discussions and individual help from tutors has been greatly impacted.  

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However, one cannot help but imagine how incredibly daunting it must be for first year students to start a new course, and be expected to engage with new information and forms of teaching almost entirely online.

Whilst there is a huge range of support offered, there is no question that the shift to online teaching has taken its toll on students. Whether it be the limited access to campus libraries, resources and adequate study centres, first year students have undoubtedly been thrown straight into the deep end with regards to their studies.

The more we reflect upon the experiences of the current first years, the more it becomes apparent that they have been deprived of the first year experience that many of us were, in retrospect, fortunate to have had.

Featured Image: Epigram / Siavash Minoukadeh

Do you think first years have been deprived of the Uni experience?