Freshers have faced the worst first year of uni imaginable, and we’re fed up

After two rounds of strikes and now lockdown, we’re yet to see a full term of teaching

Let it be known that this year has been a difficult one. A series of unprecedented and unfortunate events has produced a university year like no other, irrefutably affecting all years in different ways. Whilst I truly feel for finalists, and am in no way trying to detract from those who suffered a complete lack of dissertation support from tutors during the strikes, before then losing their final term at uni to the pandemic; it is important to recognise that freshers have experienced a great loss too.

Our first year has been so fractured, it’s made it impossible to assimilate into uni life

The fact of the matter is that Freshers this year have not yet experienced a full term of teaching at uni… ever. Mere weeks into our degrees, we were faced with the November strikes, where many courses had to contend with cancelled lectures, seminars and tutorials, twinned with a lack of contact with tutors, which became especially difficult for those submitting coursework at the time. Then, just as we were settling back into our second taste of uni life after the Christmas holidays, came the second bout of strikes, causing disruption just before the deadlines of our second rounds of coursework. By now, strikes were a common occurrence and could be mitigated, but no one could have prepared for the consequences of the pandemic.

Strikes caused constant disruption to the running of our courses, stopping and starting our learning and rarely supplementing the content we hadn’t received – but had paid for thousands for. The disjointedness of the year made it difficult to settle-in and take part in extra-curricular aspects of uni life, as understandably, not everyone felt able to dedicate time to the normal running of societies and their socials. I’ve had my sports teams’ performance affected due to a lack of time the team have spent together, I’ve had formals and social events cancelled. It might sound like a sob story, but starting a whole new life at uni and then it being completely fractured does have an impact on your mental health.

In losing our final term of uni we have also lost an essential part of our development as a student. We have been separated from our friends and peers, denying us of the potential to tighten friendships and make new ones. We will not have had the chance to get to know the people we will be living with next year in the same way as the years before us could – as first-time renters, this is a daunting prospect. We miss rites of passage such as securing a house with our new housemates, signing the contract, finishing our final first year exams and their accompanying traditions at our universities – any form of end of year celebration. The fragmentation of the year and subsequent lack of closure means we are on uneven footing and haven’t been able to fully assimilate into uni life.

The uncertainty of next year has made finishing first year even worse

In these confusing times, we are left in a limbo, unsure of how the rest of our university experience might look. We know for certain that we will not experience third term in any sense of normality. Instead, we are faced with online classes and exams which do not fully represent or prepare us for the weighted exams which will take place next year. We have been given no guidelines on what to expect for our return in September, or how our experiences this year will affect our final grades. Without real closure on first year, it is difficult to mentally prepare for the next.

Essentially, we have had to self-manage our degrees and maintain the impetus to study, which is no mean feat in your first year of university. How will this change next year? Will we have to adapt yet again? With such a long gap between leaving our university environment at the end of second term, and returning at an unknown date for second year, we are left with months of uncertainty and no guide on how to best be managing our time. We’ve waited so long for our uni experience, it is devastating that it looks like this.

If the answer is that the rest of our university experience goes online, we are left unfulfilled. We are already paying for houses we many not get to live in next year, will we also have to have virtual tours of houses should we be able to return for third year? When it comes to the course, a Zoom call or online lecture does not make up for teaching in person. The prospect of more online teaching, and our whole degrees moving online is daunting. It is therefore understandable that many will want to defer a year if this is the case, but the likelihood of universities agreeing is low when their profits are at stake. With our money in play, decisions should be more focussed on student wellbeing.

Quite honestly, it’s nothing like I expected and I feel cheated

We worked hard to get our places at university, and will have to work hard again to pay off the student debt we accumulate from this debatably wasted year of teaching. Nothing is ever easy, but if we have not been presented with a fair learning environment, how are we supposed to get the most out of our degrees? We have been left in the lurch, with no real clue about what is expected of us should we get to experience a ‘normal’ uni life. Our exams have been completely compromised by not being taught a large portion of the content; they are online and open book; and many are set over a far longer time frame than usual – how has this properly prepared us for next year? We have been presented with a Mickey Mouse exam system: these exams were not necessary, do not count, and shouldn’t have to happen.

To rub further salt into the wound, we have nothing to look forward to after we finish these exams. No balls, uni events or dedicated club nights to celebrate the hard work that we have done in spite of the less than enviable learning conditions. Summer sporting seasons such as cricket have been cancelled, and the expensive kit bought by any sports teams goes unused this year. We are not able to debrief after a tough year of studying together with friends, sitting in the sun with a drink. This year has denied us a full and well-rounded university experience and we are rightly upset because of it.

University is expensive, but usually the pay off is worth it. This year fresher’s had an experience that they never would have agreed to if they knew what was coming. Especially to the tune of nine grand. Quite simply, we’ve wasted money on the most fractured year of our lives.

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