Government has 'poorly dealt' with the university return, says Yorkshire students

A significant number of students feel the government has dealt poorly with their university return, according to a new survey.

Roughly half of university students – those doing practical courses – have already returned to in-person teaching.

But all university students who haven’t yet returned to campus and in-person teaching will be able to from today, Monday 17, May.

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According to the new UniMate’s survey 77 per cent of 1,000 students said the government has "poorly dealt" with organising their return to studies.

Pictured isolating students peer out of their accommodation window as they are interviewed by a television crew last year in Manchester. The previous two academic years have been disrupted - with many students having to spend time isolating and months off campus. Photo credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

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While 83 percent of those surveyed said they have felt sad or depressed this academic year.

The study has also found that two-thirds of students do not feel prepared for their final exams that await them on their return to campus.

A first-year student from Leeds Art University, who asked not to be named, said: “I've had to pay out of pocket for everything, as I can't get anything from uni.

Pictured, a student is tested at the University of Hull in January this year. The previous two academic years have been disrupted - with many students having to spend months off campus. Photo credit: JPIMedia

"I've not been able to borrow books at the library, or use the print rooms, or the metal/wood/pottery workshops. I've not been able to access software or even basics like paper or craft wire.

"With shops being closed, I had to order everything online, costing even more than it would have!”

A spokeswoman from Leeds Arts University said: "We understand and sympathise with the concerns of our students and recognise that this has been a challenging year for all."

The university said in line with government guidance for practical and creative courses, students at Leeds Arts University were able to return for on-campus teaching and learning from 8 March 2021. While studios, facilities and University library are Covid-secure, and have been open for all students who need to access them since September 2020.

To help with significant hardships for some the university also increased the annual materials bursary available to all students from £110 to £405 for this academic year, while hardship funds are also available for students who may be experiencing financial difficulties.

Elsewhere a second-year student from the University of York, who did not want to be named, stated that they felt “severely anxious and depressed” due to “not getting the full experience of meeting new people and going out”.

This year has been particularly tough for students experiencing mental health conditions.

A first-year University of Leeds student mentioned that they were “lucky enough to have never experienced depression before coming to university. But sadly recently I have been feeling

waves of depression come over me like a dark cloud. It’s horrible and is definitely connected to the loneliness of university."

The Yorkshire Post approached the University of York and the University of Leeds for comment.

The study also found that two-thirds of students do not feel prepared for their final exams that await them on their return to campus.

More than half of those who participated in the survey stated that their poor mental health had impacted their academic performance, yet little is being done to mitigate against this.

While almost 30 per cent of students have reached out to mental health services during this academic year, and 76 percent of them have reached out to them more than in previous

years.

Many of these students have since been diagnosed with depression and anxiety due to the uncertainty they have faced throughout the year from both universities and the government.

The survey also revealed 93 per cent believe a refund for the past academic year is necessary.

Charlotte Gray, the chief executive for UniMate, said: "It’s been a difficult year for university students, who’ve felt extremely left behind.

"There’s been so much uncertainty in relation to teaching and grades which I not only experienced myself but also through all the conversations I’ve had with students this year.

"In fact, that's why we even started UniMate: because we wanted to take our grades and degrees into our own hands. We’re glad UniMate has been able to relieve some of that uncertainty but so much more could and should have been done.

"Through this research we wanted to give a voice to university students and let them express how challenging this year has been. Although shocking, we’re not surprised about the results and comments and hope more is done regarding student mental health."

A spokesman for Yorkshire Universities - a group representing 12 institutes across the region - said: “The past fourteen months has seen unprecedented disruption and challenge for students, staff and all connected with universities and the higher education sector.

"Universities have been working with students and student unions to provide increased health and well-being support services for students. Universities nationally have also been in discussions with NHS England/Improvement to support local health systems to transform mental health services to meet the needs of students.

"While in Yorkshire, the region’s universities and Public Health England are working collectively to share knowledge and information in order to expand and improve the overall range of measures and interventions that are designed to further help our students."

The Department for Education were also approached by The Yorkshire Post for comment.

Living in a bubble of one

The previous two academic years have been disrupted - with many students having to spend months off campus.

This included Graeme Brannan, 27, who left a successful career in finance to re-train to become a paramedic at the University of Bradford

He described himself as one of “the lucky” students, as due to the practical nature of his course, he has been on campus on average three times a week in a "social bubble" of up to seven students.

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