My university, the university of Cambridge, recently made national headlines. They have announced that there will be no in-person lectures next year. Instead, they hastily added, lectures will be replaced by online teaching. Students will still live in Cambridge, and one-to-one teaching will continue, but unless lockdown is fundamentally altered when we go back, many students are asking: what’s the point?
Having finished a term of online teaching and examination, I can confirm that it’s not the same. Academics are famously bad at replying to emails, and fair enough; they have books to read and books to write, and thousands of students just like me to teach. And in normal circumstances, this doesn’t matter. However virtually absent your professor is, every week (in your weekly supervision) you can corner them in a study somewhere, with nowhere to hide, and in these conversations, a huge amount of learning can take place. But when this all takes place online, the natural tendency of the academic to disappear is magnified tenfold. The truth is, face-to-face teaching is part of what ensures students get a quality education.
Nonetheless, with enough sass you can squeeze out a reply or a video call, and students will likely end up with something similar to the education they would be getting. University teaching probably can be conducted to a high quality whilst social distancing is maintained. But university life as a whole can’t.
Our colleges have already thrown us out of the accommodation we payed for (to go home to our families and mingle with older, more vulnerable people). Many students left clothes and other essentials behind in their rooms, and have no idea when they can come to collect it, if they even can. When we do eventually return, many are suggesting we be herded into ‘student bubbles,’ with our flatmates forming a ‘household,’ and with limited, or no interaction between households. I don’t wish to complain, and I do love my five flatmates, but this isn’t the kind of vibrant social life that any student hoped for. This is not to mention the death of pretty much every university sport (even the sport Cambridge is famous for: rowing).
Ultimately, it is no surprise that students are trying en masse to take a gap-year, or scrambling for non-university owned accommodation next year (so that they can break lockdown in peace). The student experience is just one entry in the long and growing list of things lost in lockdown. Never mind that students are one of the least at-risk groups in the entire population, or that for many, university marks a transformation of character and values. Common-sense reasons against locking down don’t matter: lockdown is law, and this won’t change so long as we live in a country paralysed by fear.