Durham offer holders discuss the prospect of starting uni online

Prospective students talk deferring, online teaching, and their worries about academic and social life

For current Year 13 students looking to start university this autumn, the pandemic has thrown a lot into the air. With Cambridge University confirming all its lectures for the 2020-2021 academic year are to be taught online, a heavy concern exists that other institutions may follow suit.

Though Durham University is yet to confirm its planned methods of teaching for next Michaelmas  Term, students who currently hold offers for 2020 admission are unsurprisingly nervous. Online teaching and continued social distancing measures threaten the possibility of an “ordinary” Freshers’ experience, thus making the processes of settling in and forming new friendships more challenging once order is resumed.

We caught up with a range of current offer holders who are planning to start at Durham this October. From regrets over taking gap years, worries about finding friends, and making ample progress on their courses, eight students share their thoughts on the uncertainties they are facing next term.

 Tom, offer for Politics at St Chad’s

“Although I would have wanted to get the full university experience, I understand the need to have an online course. I am rather disappointed at the likelihood of missing out on the full university experience but I don’t see how the university would be able to accommodate a full, socially distanced first term. I’m doing a 3 year course so would still have the opportunity to experience two years of “proper” university.

“The rumours in the [offer holders’] group chat are that if you put in for deferral, you lose your spot, so I am vehemently against it.

“One of my biggest concerns about university is the ability to make friends. Whilst we have group chats now, I still don’t feel that I’m close enough with anyone to call them a friend. Online teaching would surely perpetuate this idea that you’ll “get to know” people, but not actually make any friends.

“In terms of information we’ve received from Durham, more is about why to firm Durham as opposed to what is actually happening. The majority of information I get comes from people in the group chat with older siblings or friends already at Durham”.

Dowan, offer for Classics at Hild Bede

“I have had experience of online teaching this term and, although it is the best alternative to traditional learning during this challenging time, I do not feel it is quite as engaging and effective.

“Moreover, the social aspect of university will not be the same. I feel that online learning will affect the integration of students, both in settling in as well as making friends. This will impact with whom we will choose to share accommodation with in our second year, as we would have had less time to get to know each other.

“If given the option of deferring, I would choose to do so, and have already considered it, as to get a more “typical” first-year experience at university”.

Jenna, offer for Psychology at South College

“I’m not actively worried about teaching changing, just that I won’t have the same “start of uni experience” that everyone talks about. We’ve been able to make friends already online through group chats for our course and colleges, and we host weekly Zooms which means we’re already quite close.

“I think not having face to face learning might make me and some others less motivated to learn because we could get lazy, not bother getting ready and changed etc.

“I don’t think the university has updated offer holders enough- the majority of information we have was emailed to current students, and supplied to us by them”.

Inga, offer for Accounting and Finance

“I am from China, and so studying abroad for me means experiencing a different culture, and communicating and learning with people from different countries. If you move the classroom to the Internet, it will make studying abroad and college life boring.

“I don’t think I would be apprehensive about making friends, I am a very open person so it is natural for me to make friends. However, academically, I am someone who likes to start working quite close to the deadline. I feel that online study would magnify my procrastination, whereas offline, I am a much more diligent person”.

Rahim, offer for Economics with Management at St Chad’s

“I wouldn’t consider deferring my place, because even if university ends up being online because of the pandemic, there won’t be much else to do. I figure I might as well be doing online university rather than nothing. So long as we can get up to Durham and be in college, I think that would be fine.

“I think our year group is unique in that, because we have almost always had new specifications for exams, we’re quite good at teaching ourselves and learning online, so whilst it wouldn’t be as good as in-person teaching, I think we would be in a pretty good position to learn online effectively”.

Alice, offer for History and German at Van Mildert

“I decided not to take a gap year, as my third year would be a year abroad. I don’t regret this decision, but I am a bit jealous of those who have planned to.

“I’m worried about how the virus will affect my first year. I know everyone says Freshers’ Week is overrated, but I was really looking forward to meeting new people and going out- this seems impossible under the current guidelines. The potential plan for online lectures isn’t the end of the world, but for me, it takes away from the uni experience I want and am paying for.

“Online teaching would be especially tough for my language course, as the value of social interaction while learning a language is so important. I think it’s harder to speak up in online classes than in real life, which I think would be damaging to my progress.

“So far, the information coming from Durham has been useful. Van Mildert have put up virtual tours of college, and the departments have also given useful introductory videos, lectures, and live conferences”.

Tia, offer for Education Studies at John Snow

“I’m from South Africa and have spent the last year and a half since my high school graduation on a gap year. I don’t regret taking the gap year at all, because I still got to experience so many wonderful things, and the time this year has really helped me figure things out.

“Honestly, I’m not worried about first term being moved online because I can’t wait for university in generalI’ve been so excited, so I wouldn’t want to defer. Things in first year might be different, but I’ll still get the opportunity to study at a great overseas university, even if it is for a little less time.

“I don’t think online teaching would negatively impact my ability to learn too much, but it will affect one-to-one interactions, and the ability to go for help during office hours and get advice. I’m worried that could affect my ability to grow as a student and learn the most from my teachers.

“So far the university has been good at keeping students up to date, but there could perhaps be more information sent out to international students”.

Joel, offer for Classics at St Cuthbert’s

“I’m a little worried about uni being moved online from both a social and learning aspect. Being lectured online is a totally different atmosphere to IRL learning and lectures. Personally, I don’t really want to pay uni fees for an online course, and then also miss out on the social aspect. I don’t think it would be worth it if we had online lectures, with no real means to meet people properly and make real mates.

“If it’s all online, with no Freshers for the whole of first year, I will definitely think about deferring if I can”.

The current Durham University guidelines on deferring places for study until the 2021-22 academic year can be found in full here. For incoming undergraduates, the information is as follows: “As lockdown restrictions start to be eased around the world we very much hope that you will meet the conditions of your offer and be able to join us in Durham in October. If Covid-19 restrictions mean that you won’t be able to attend this year, then you can make a request to defer to 2021.

“If you are holding an undergraduate offer with us and would like to defer to 2021 then please Ask us. Your request will be considered and we will communicate our decision to you via UCAS as soon as possible. If you are given a deferral and your offer is conditional then you must meet the conditions of your offer by 31 August 2020″.