Image description: drawing of a person looking at their phone, slightly concerned.
Our university has always hosted a broad spectrum of conflicting opinions, however after three online terms the student body has fragmented to an alarming degree. Barely a day goes by without a new bout of in-fighting in some pocket of the University.
This tension is unsurprising; the ONS recently released data which demonstrated the increasing pessimism of the nation, with the number of people who think it will take longer than a year for life to return to normal overtaking those who think it will take six months or less. I spoke to students about their experiences over the past year, and the consensus was that this term has seemed different, presenting a unique set of challenges as we inch towards the loosening of lockdown restrictions.
Something many students noticed was the cold weather impacting our moods; studies carried out in Catalonia suggested that weather had an immediate impact on our moods and attitudes in the first lockdown, even when the temperature remained above five degrees.
With no Christmas on the horizon, and no clear end to the current lockdown in sight, this January has been notably bleak for all. For students, this has been worsened by last-minute policy changes that only told them that they had to stay at home a week before they were due to leave for University. After a year of lockdown, sitting tight and waiting for the pandemic to blow over has many students frustrated at the loss of their precious few terms at university.
Online term has its own challenges that many of us are now familiar with, however many feel that this term is different to previous ones. For second years and finalists, there is the distinct feeling of a wasted university experience, whilst freshers are struggling to maintain friendships that they only had a couple of months to form. This sense of time running out has led to increased tensions about lockdown rules.
While some students I spoke to have become more vigilant since the vaccine became effective, others said they had become tired of missing out. One student told me how difficult they felt it was to adhere to Covid-19 rules when “It feels like everyone else is, [breaking the rules].” News of the vaccine is, in this sense, a double-edged sword: at once giving people hope for a swift end to the pandemic, whilst also seeming to suggest to some that less care need be taken regarding social distancing and lockdown measures.
This sense of time running out has led to increased tensions about lockdown rules.
This apathy towards restriction is a symptom of pandemic fatigue, defined by the WHO as “demotivation to follow recommended protective behaviours, emerging gradually over time and affected by a number of emotions, experiences and perceptions.” It is an almost inevitable consequence of the prolonged restriction we have endured, and student populations are young, reckless, and have an expiry date on their current lifestyle. In short, they are likely to experience the highest level of pandemic fatigue.
Pandemic fatigue has had a huge impact upon our student body. The lack of a physical campus means that colleges are increasingly fragmented; differing attitudes to coronavirus restrictions have led to explosive fall-outs within friendship groups and the lack of social interaction has led to an onslaught of Oxfess beef. These things would not ordinarily exist, but they have undeniably affected the student experience this year, forcing cracks in college communities.
This year has certainly shaped our feelings towards our colleges and the University too. Differences in college policy regarding social distancing are well-publicised, and suggest vastly differing attitudes towards the student community. Some colleges fined students and others warned they could be sent home. The hazy guidance for which students were allowed to return to University in January led to severe discrepancies between colleges, resurrecting the idea that the treatment of students has depended upon choice of college this year now more than ever.
Many students also suggested that this term shone light on the burden which colleges place upon Welfare Reps and those with similar positions, all of whom are also students with their own individual struggles. However it isn’t just colleges wherein students have grievances: the central university has been under fire for its “apathetic” communication with students, and poor handling of academic affairs.
It isn’t hard to find examples that substantiate these complaints; from the emails suggesting that students should in some way appreciate experiencing the pandemic, to the Physics and Philosophy students who received their exam results 101 days after their exams. Combined with the tensions in the student community, this resentment towards the University administration has led to many students feeling disillusioned with their time in Oxford.
We have all lost out on a substantial chunk of our university careers and students’ longing for the rose-tinted lifestyle of their ‘normal’ student life means that many are eager to stay.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that a vaccine will not solve all of our problems overnight, which leaves the future of university graduates starkly uncertain. Internships are few and far between, grad schemes are extremely competitive and on top of this a global recession looms large.
This has meant that continuing in education is an appealing prospect to many. Finalists I spoke to said they were more likely to apply to a master’s programme, as they “don’t quite feel ready to move on from this stage of my life just yet.” We have all lost out on a substantial chunk of our university careers and students’ longing for the rose-tinted lifestyle of their ‘normal’ student life means that many are eager to stay.
With news soon expected about university returns, we are slowly headed back to normality, and the road ahead is undoubtedly brighter.
The added time at home has meant that many students said they were eager to move out after graduating, realising the extent of freedom that leaving home can provide. Another thing that cropped up again and again was a growing eagerness to work in an office or a social environment, rather than freelancing or working from home. In short, people are eager for the changes brought on by the pandemic to be temporary.
Overall, the view of Hilary 2021 is a bleak one. Undoubtedly, the lack of certainty surrounding the road out of lockdown plays a big factor in this, leading to stress about the future, about exams and about getting our normal lives back. Increasingly, it seems the worst of the pandemic is behind us, largely due to the vaccine. With news soon expected about university returns, we are slowly headed back to normality, and the road ahead is undoubtedly brighter.
Image credit: Carlos PX, Unsplash