Opinion | The pandemic is making students re-evaluate university

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By Caitlin Palmer O’Shaughnessy, First Year, Social Policy and Sociology

The pandemic has radically changed the way we experience university. Gone are the days of in person teaching and socialising, now replaced by virtual seminars and the excessive use of Zoom to try and fill the human-contact sized hole in everyone’s heart.

With no set date for when things might return to ‘normal’ many have been forced to re-evaluate whether University really is the right choice for them.

Undeniably, the social side of University has completely disappeared. University has been stripped down to its most basic form: academics. For some this is great as our passion for our chosen degree is why we’re here, right? Well, maybe not.

Pre-pandemic our understanding of University had evolved from a place of pure academia to a much more rounded, all-encompassing experience. University was a place you went to get involved in the social side of things, to pursue other extra-curricular passions alongside your degree, or to simply get away from home and become independent.

And whilst this may be a very privileged stance, it is simply true that for many University was seen as a necessary rite of passage into the ‘real world’.

However, with all that makes University a more comprehensive experience indefinitely paused, those who benefitted from the more extra-curricular side of University are beginning to question whether a degree is really for them.

It is widely acknowledged that University is too commonly used as the default option

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is widely acknowledged that University is too commonly used as the default option: many choose to go because it seems like a natural progression, and this has resulted in the decreasing value of University degrees. So, perhaps the stripping back of University might offer some valuable thinking time to those who usually go through the motions passively.

Alternatively, for some the effect of the pandemic has been devastating, with unemployment at a five-year high and numbers expected to rise before the end of the year, University may simply no longer be an option for those who have been worst hit by the pandemic.

With workers in hospitality and retail worst affected, others may find that they no longer have the opportunity to work alongside their degree and thus can no longer afford University.

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Therefore, it is important to distinguish between the positive effect the pandemic might be having on some in causing them to pause and re-evaluate before they automatically decide to go to University, and the constraining effect placed on disadvantaged young people.

We are now at a watershed moment. The pandemic has offered us the chance to change the narrative regarding University, and to dispel the myth that it is the only entrance into getting what some deem a ‘good’ job.

Perhaps this is all a temporary blip and in a couple of years’ time University will still be someone’s automatic, mindless choice, however I personally believe that we should utilise this opportunity to take a break from the status quo and look at other, less conventional opportunities.

Featured Image: Epigram / Lucy O'Neill


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