'I'll stay but I'm not happy about it': Students on facing lockdown at university

“I’m considering going home,” Lois Lawn tells The Independent.  

The physics student, who moved away from home weeks ago to start university, is one of many facing a fresh lockdown in England while still on campus.

“I’m not sure how well I’ll cope with the lack of social activities,” Lawn says.

The government has said educational settings must remain open during the new lockdown, with universities told to consider doing more online teaching where possible – which unions have called for.

While Lawn still has the option of face-to-face teaching at the moment, she says she would much rather be at home if her course ends up becoming fully online. 

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“Sitting in my bedroom all day would be so crushing for my mental health,” she says.

The first-year student at the University of Surrey adds: “I really don’t want to get stuck here with a total online course.”

While students like Lawn consider whether to head home before the new lockdown comes into force on Thursday, government guidance asks them to stay put.

The universities minister has urged students against travelling back to their families ahead of the second lockdown, which will ban them from returning home until at least 2 December.

A host of measures will be introduced on Thursday to tackle the spread of coronavirus, including the closure of pubs, restaurants and gyms. People will not be allowed to meet those they do not live with indoors, or to do overnight stays. 

“I know and appreciate that a number of you may want to be back with your family during this difficult time, but I urge you to stay where you are in order to save lives,” Michelle Donelan, the minister for universities, said in a letter to students.

Zeenia Naqvee, a third-year student at the University of Liverpool, says she will be staying in the city for lockdown, as she’s got a job there, and has been “tied into” a rental contract since last November. 

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Meanwhile, Katie*, a first-year student at the University of Cambridge, says she cannot go home while she still has university work and in-person lessons – even though she is not thrilled at the prospect of facing lockdown on campus. 

“The problem is it is too loud to concentrate on work at home, especially the amount of work you need to do at Cambridge, and I don’t have any of the books at home,” she tells The Independent. “I’ll stay, but I’m not happy about it.”

She says university is “a lot of work and pressure” to deal with while unable to go out as usual – and has been an “incredibly isolating” experience even before the new month-long lockdown, with friends told to self-isolate for two weeks. 

“We don’t know whether we will get to go home at the end of it as well. That’s the thing,” Katie adds. “They said it will be at least a month.”

Anvee Bhutani, an international student at the University of Oxford whose family live in the US, will also be staying at university for the lockdown, even though all her teaching is done online.

“I’ve been locked-down loads this year,” she tells The Independent, saying she has done three separate two-week stints in isolation after visiting America, and after a housemate tested positive for Covid-19.

“I’ve already done lockdown for nearly a month and a half,” she says. “I do think it is going to be tough.” 

Department for Education (DfE) guidance over the new lockdown says: “We are asking students to remain at university and not to travel home before Thursday 5 November, to allow all students who are able to, to benefit from face-to-face teaching and Covid-secure educational facilities, and to prevent the increased risk of spreading coronavirus.”

A DfE spokesperson told The Independent: “We are prioritising students’ education and wellbeing by keeping universities open.

“The government has updated its guidance setting out that students should stay in their current accommodation.”

They added: “Universities should work with their local health teams to agree the balance of online and in-person teaching, adapting measures to their local circumstances.”

*Name has been changed at the interviewee’s request

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