A timeline: The chaos endured by final years who have spent the whole of uni in a pandemic

Uni has been a whirlwind of isolation and confusion, no thanks to the government and the universities themselves

When I first entered uni as a fresher in Leeds almost three years ago, I expected the next few years of my life to be care-free, optimistic and full of booze. While the latter hasn’t been far from reality, for myself and thousands of other final year students, uni has been a whirlwind of isolation and confusion – thanks to a pandemic, the government and universities themselves.

It began in February 2020, when a few cases of coronavirus had been identified in York, but university life was moving as usual. Staff assured us that face-to-face teaching would continue and there was nothing else to be said about the matter. A month later, we were told to pack our bags and go back to our families for a supposed “two week lockdown”, with the alternative being to stay in halls and hope for the best.

What followed was a year and a half of false-promises from our own universities and the government. A year and a half of not being mentioned in news reports and briefings, expected to “figure it out” ourselves. We haven’t forgotten how neglected we were from our institutions, and this is just a brief timeline of how university life has been from a fresher to a third year during the pandemic:

March 2020 – September 2020


Little did we know…

On the 16th March 2020, Boris ordered that everyone had to stop “non-essential contact and travel”, signalling the beginning of the worsening Covid-19 situation in the UK. Whilst we weren’t in lockdown, many university winter balls and other formal events were abruptly cancelled or postponed amidst fears of an lockdown. Fortunately, as my ball was on the 16th I got to experience my first formal event and was able to go on a club night afterwards.

The following morning, my subject department sent out an email stating that lectures and seminars were cancelled. They urged us to go home where possible or take the risk of staying at university. A week later on the 23rd March, the country was instructed to stay at home and only leave the house for limited purposes.


The realities of isolation setting in

For lots of freshers, you don’t properly settle into university life until your second semester. Your friendships solidify and you’re somewhat used to cooking and cleaning for yourself, so being plunged out of that comfort and sent back home to live with your parents was deeply unsettling.

Most students had to begin online learning at home, as well as some sitting online exams. For an unlucky few, universities offered no learning when lockdown ensued and they left students unsure about the fundamental foundations of their degrees – no monetary compensation was offered for this loss.

It gets worse. Students across the UK in were forced to pay rent for places they weren’t living in, up to the discretion of the accommodation they were staying at, which unfortunately remained an issue for freshers in 2021.

As restrictions eased over summer with the reopening of pubs and bars and the introduction of eat out to help out, students were optimistic about university life going back to normal. However, this was shortly followed by restrictions and 10pm curfews, diminishing any confidence in life returning to usual.

Eat Out to Help Out – the calm before the storm

October 2020 – Christmas

Late October 2020 saw lockdown reintroduced again due to a dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases. As students had settled back into university and began their second year, they were being blamed by politicians for spreading the virus, yet that same government had told them to return to university as normal.

The blame should’ve been with the government for encouraging universities to open, yet they failed to offer proper leadership about how they could open safely.


The majority of students I spoke to at the time spent most of that semester isolating as even prior to the introduction of lockdown, students were contracting the virus or coming into contact with someone who did and having to isolate for ten days at a time. Did the public forget the impact that self-isolation has on our mental health? It felt as though the general public, universities and government were against us, and they’d ignored how much we’d suffered at this point too.

At Christmas, the introduction of the tier system saw some students spend their Christmas at university alone. We also had to prepare for assessments, which was incredibly stressful considering that some of us had never sat an exam before due missing half of our last semester of first year.

Concerns of A Level and GCSE students were dominating the headlines, but there was radio silence covering university students.

Just me revising in isolation

After Christmas 2021 – Present day

Following Christmas, students completed their examinations and so forth in another lockdown, and those attending Russell Group universities were sadly offered no safety net policies to support their examinations. Despite losing out on a proper education in their first and second years, some students were not supported by their universities and treated as though their education had been perfect throughout a series of mentally and physically taxing lockdowns.

On top of this, students were being fined a staggering £10,000 for “large gatherings” whilst Downing Street ignored their own rules and partied throughout the pandemic.

Final years were stripped of their social lives in second year, as clubs and bars only opened in the summer, long after the university term had come to an end.

Clubs finally came back

Restrictions easing in third year just isn’t the same

Our only opportunity to socialise is in our third year, where endless dissertation meetings and deadlines prohibit us from doing so. With more strikes and lecturers stopping marking on the horizon, it begs the question as to when our institutions will realise just how much we’ve been let down by them during the pandemic.

I’m glad that university life is returning to normal, but I can’t help but dwell on how much I’ve missed out on as a final year, and how my experience has cost me the same price as the years before when I got a fraction of the experience.

Myself and other final years will try and enjoy third year to the best we can, but the last two years of uncertainty and mistreatment have meant that I won’t be trusting universities or the government particularly soon.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Lecturers to stop marking assessments next month if demands aren’t met

Every single social event the government allegedly had during lockdown

• For clinically vulnerable people, ‘freedom day’ isn’t a celebration – it’s terrifying