Many university students who are currently enrolled on courses with practical elements are disgruntled with the lack of support they are receiving from the government and their respective universities.

The emergence of a third national lockdown has meant that the vast majority of university students are left stuck at home learning online via Zoom – for the second academic year running in some cases.

While some courses have been able to adapt to this drastic change in the teaching process, students on more practical courses have been seriously struggling to cope the last few months.

No real support from many universities

Joe Haddock is one such student. He is in his final year and studying music production at the University of Derby. Due to the heavy practical nature of his subject, Joe doesn’t think that online lectures are suited towards his course.

He explained why he disliked studying over the Internet as he said: “Online learning has been a lot more difficult in terms of applying myself to the actual material.

“It’s a lot easier to be able to engage with the lecture material and the slides and the course content if I’m there in the building and I’ve walked all the way in.

“Whereas, if I can load up my laptop on my bed and watch a lecture from there, it incentives me to just let go of my focus and not really take in the material.

“Overall, practical courses have been really tough this year because of the lack of support and the absence of in-person facilities.”

A difficult semester

For his final-year project, Joe is expected to partake in an assessed live performance with a group of his fellow classmates. He thinks this will be near-impossible now. “[COVID-19] has meant that there are just so many restrictions, meaning that I can’t meet with people and discuss ideas,” he said.

“I can’t plan revision sessions with peers, and I haven’t been able to access the studios at all in order to record or practice any of the musical stuff that I would have been able to for the last two years.

“I also haven’t been able to actually use any of the professional software we spent countless hours mastering,” he added.

Unfortunately, many students simply cannot afford to purchase the professional-grade software/tools that they are accustomed to using on-campus, and universities aren’t always able to make them readily available to everyone remotely.  

When asked about what other difficulties he had faced so far, Joe replied: “There has been the superlative issue in terms of I haven’t been able to meet my group face-to-face at all, and I’m not sure when I will be able to.

“I’m supposed to be performing a live show towards the end of the semester. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to actually get in the same room as everyone before the day.

“We might have to rehearse it in different rooms, in different houses in different cities at this rate.”

A drum cover of “I’ve Been Wild” by The Stranglers was one of the last pieces of music that Joe was able to record in the music studio at his university.

Worried about the future

Like many creative students, Joe is concerned with how his recent experiences at university will bode for future career prospects. “I’m a little bit worried that my degree will be worth slightly less in the eyes of employers down the line,” he described.  

“I feel like COVID-19 has meant that my overall degree as a whole has been devalued, given that the last two years have not been exactly what they were supposed to have been.

“I’m not sure if employers in the future will be prejudiced against people who graduated during the pandemic as they might think they don’t possess the same skillset as those who underwent face-to-face teaching,” he noted.

Should students have their tuition fees reduced or refunded?

A recent online petition sought to get the government to refund the tuition fees for university students in 2020/21. Although the petition was ultimately rejected, it had amassed over 270,000 signatures by its end – highlighting that there was a decently size national following behind the campaign.

Many students feel like they are entitled to some sort of compensation as a result of the events of the last year, having missed out on many face-to-face lectures.

As he has had multiple national lockdowns cut his university experience short, Joe also believes there should be some reimbursement of tuition fees. He said: “I do think that a partial refund would be helpful.

“Whether that’s financially possible for the government, I don’t know – I’m no expert on that. It would certainly help because we really aren’t getting the degrees that we paid for.

“To use a very, very light term, and to avoid profanity, that’s not quite fair.”

The struggles of online learning

The full interview with music production student Joe Haddock where he discusses the difficulties he has had with online lectures over the last few months.

When will students return to campus?

As it currently stands, only those on critical worker courses are presently attending face-to-face lectures as normal on their relevant campuses.

Last night (22/02), Boris Johnson unveiled his plans to reopen the UK after the third national lockdown. In terms of university students, it was decided that in order to limit the number of people on campus at any one time, only practical courses shall be returning on the 8th of March. It is unknown precisely what courses will be returning next month, as it is expected to differ on a case-by-case basis.

As shown below, Michelle Donelan, the Minister of State for Universities, recently put out an open letter to all higher education students informing them of the government’s new plans up until Easter.

Boris Johnson has promised that he would review the situation again after Easter to see if it was safe to allow all university students back on campus. No promises have been made at this stage, leaving many students doubtful they will return to face-to-face lectures again this academic year.

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