Students and COVID-19: The daily battle to make ends meet


As if it weren’t already hard enough, racking up an average student debt of £36,000 to study, we’ve had the rug pulled from under us this year - and the ramifications will continue for years to come. First, we lost up to 4 weeks of tuition due to university strikes, and then we lost even more valuable – and expensive – tuition due to COVID-19. On top of this, many students have lost their means of support from part-time jobs. Unsurprisingly, they are calling for tuition fee reimbursements for the 2019/20 academic year and financial aid support into the future.


It’s not just the students who are suffering. With many courses thrown into chaos by the Covid-19 pandemic, universities are facing an uncertain future with over 20% deferrals for the 2020/21 academic year, according to a London Economics student survey. Many universities, including Cambridge, have shifted lectures online. Separately, the Scottish government is under pressure from the think tank, Reform Scotland, to scrap tuition fees for EU students to make up the lost revenue and save the historic institutions.


As governments scramble to bail out universities, the National Union of Students (NUS) has called for help directed towards students. A NUS survey of over 10,000 students have found that up to 85% of working students need financial support due to loss of jobs and were concerned about their future job prospects. The NUS has urged universities to allow students to repeat the academic year at no cost to ease the mounting pressure on those who are impacted disproportionately. We have reached out to students to find out about their individual experiences.

Slow adjustments within the student world have frustrated many. Nadia, a second year Mathematics student at the University of Glasgow, has expressed frustration for the lessening quality of education, which “has gone down to the price of premium zoom calls.” Most students are not satisfied with teaching shifting online; they view it as a temporary measure during the pandemic but not a replacement for campus teaching. Those who rely on campus facilities to source their current learning are being set back.


Siana, a third year History student at Goldsmiths is “heavily reliant on primary sources, which are reference-only at archives,” and has faced consequent struggles with her essays which account for most of her grade. Others who require STEM laboratories and libraries are also restricted.


Shafali, a Medical Masters student in Sofia, says “Some of my subjects it’s not possible to study from home, for example anatomy. You will need practical classes to understand properly.”


A lack of support towards less advantaged students has exacerbated equality differences in the UK. Not only has Covid-19 negatively impacted their learning experience, but many have been held back by their household conditions. With lack of appropriate furniture or Wi-fi, students have found it difficult to adapt their learning schedules, let alone adjust to the stressful situation. Those who live in multi-generational homes and lack appropriate space have had to adjust to the noise and distractions which are absent in a university library. All this adds to the huge burden on students’ mental health, but precious little support from their universities.

Earlier on in the crisis, nursing students were asked to step up to the frontline. They signed a 6-month contract which would provide them clinical practice to gain a full qualification. Instead, the student nurses have been told that they will only be paid until 31st July 2020, which is less than 6 months since they were recruited. Understandably, they have responded with anger and frustration, on social media.

Rohini, a nursing student in Preston, has also been working as frontline staff since the crisis began. “My university does not cover hardship funding. Despite this we have been asked to work as front-line staff with a salary. I find that this does not give us the opportunity to learn as nurses and puts us in a difficult position. I understand the importance of participating in this way, but find that the lack of financial support, we are being crippled by our lack of resources.”

Many student nurses, including Rohini, have argued that they will be left financially and mentally restrained. “It is beyond frustrating to pay over £9k per year for studying under these conditions. As a student nurse I find it has left me feeling fearful of the debt after this all settles.”

When her grandmother died of Covid-19 in March, Rohini received minimal support from the university despite her mental health conditions. She and her family are still recovering from the death whilst she continues her studies and frontline duty.

“I understand that this is a serious situation that we must learn to cope with each day. I feel our government has not been truly accountable for the loss that we have all faced.”

As for the many other students who are employed in the hospitality, leisure, and retail sectors, they have faced a disproportionate loss in their jobs and income when businesses closed. Although some students have been furloughed, many lost their jobs before lockdown was officially announced, making them ineligible for financial assistance. The NUS has asked the government to set up a hardship fund for those who are struggling financially.


Many, like myself, rely on a part-time job to subsidise my studies. Even thought I was laid-off on March 20th, I was still bound by lease to pay my rent until July. Student loans can only go so far, and Universal Credit is not awarded to full-time students receiving maintenance from the government. Shafali highlights how moving back home or asking family for help may not be possible for some students who are from a less advantaged background. Her parents also lost their income, yet her rent and bills remain the full amount.

The 85% of students who rely on jobs to subsidise their independent life may be constrained into the next academic year, if they cannot find jobs to save money during the summer. It could compromise the success of students who may pick up more hours to make ends meet, which compromises their studies and further widening the equality between richer and poorer students.


If students’ current financial situation was not bad enough, nearly all are anxious about the ensuing recession. If it wasn’t already competitive, graduates entering the job market will inevitably experience barriers to future prospects. Students whose work experience and internships have been rescinded are anticipating a setback in comparison with previous graduate years.


Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS president has said, “we urgently need a student safety net for all students across the UK.” Without taking immediate action, those who require the most help will be severely affected both financially, academically and mentally. Universities talk a big game about student welfare; now is the time for them to take up the gauntlet and bring their commitments to the fore.

Support:

· Make sure to check your university’s website to see if you are entitled to any travel/accommodation reimbursements or hardship funds


· For international students in the UK, check out this site for any updated information/support: https://study-uk.britishcouncil.org/moving-uk/coronavirus

· Hardship and support for students in Scotland: https://www.saas.gov.uk/news/coronavirus

For guidance on mental health support: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/coronavirus-briefing-note-supporting-student-mental-health/ and https://clearyourhead.scot/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwirz3BRD_ARIsAImf7LMdZ8mDEmCQzucPXnSFoxNq-N5gPa-vsWfn70uWXmK-Yh1rwDHRwbYaAi6bEALw_wcB


AUTHOR: Dila Yalman



Dila is an Intern at GGM UK. She is an aspiring journalist and currently studies Economics at the University of Edinburgh.


Dila writes and edits for her university's Economics Magazine, as well as for a start-up fashion magazine. She also regularly writes pieces ranging from academic critiques to political reports for her blog. Most of her writing reflects what she has personally encountered and tells the story of real people.


Dila is seeking to assert her journalistic voice while providing a voice for those who do not have one and this is what she aims to gain from her experience at GGM UK.

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