Journeying Back from Pursuing an Education in the UK due to COVID-19 – A Personal Experience
Closure of the University
It is well-known that the journey of many students studying overseas including my own was cut short due to the pandemic. My university – The University of Sheffield had announced its closure after a report was released stating that a faculty member of the architecture department had contracted the virus.
The announcement that the semester was to be continued online was given under very short-notice. Lecturers were not given enough time to be sufficiently prepared. Thus, after a week of online classes, the University announced an early Easter holiday for lecturers to be given sufficient time to devise a proper programme with the use of e-resources.
After the holidays, the semester was continued online and it was later announced that all exams were to be conducted through an open-book format online as well.
Flying back to Malaysia
After the closure of the campus, international students were encouraged to return to their home countries. I only decided to fly back to Malaysia after accommodation services released a statement whereby, we would be able to get a refund for the last term of our contract.
Personally, I felt that the UK’s policies in tackling the virus were inadequate. I was quite anxious as well about the possibility of contracting the virus, especially after hearing rumours that international students who contracted the virus were denied medical assistance. On top of that, I also had friends who unfortunately contracted the virus on the plane journey back home, so I was quite conflicted as to whether flying back was the right choice.
Having been back for roughly 2 months now, I am glad I made the decision especially since Malaysia has gone to extreme measures to effectively in contain the virus.
Continuing my studies online was not much of a problem to me as I was still able to understand the syllabus and achieve the learning outcomes. The University staff were also very considerate and always made sure that we were supported. They held extra drop-in sessions for us to be able to speak to them one-to-one and have them address our concerns.
However, many students struggled to understand the topics especially since some academic staff members were on strike for 2 weeks before the announcement of the closure of University.
Hence, many students were frustrated due to the disruption of their studies.
Petitions to Get a Refund for Tuition Fees
Many students started signing petitions seeking a refund or a reduction in tuition fees. They have also been getting help from the Student Union’s President in raising this matter to the committee board. However, thus far their efforts have yet to be fruitful.
Although the petition is still on-going, universities have announced that they have no plans to reduce tuition fees, even for the next academic year as it is understood that they are currently facing severe financial difficulties.
With the current rise in unemployment levels, many students are struggling to find a way to fund their tuition fees, causing acute panic amongst many of the more underprivileged students.
Lecturers were considerate towards the predicament that students were going through and thus decided to simplify the structure of the examinations. For instance, we were given extra time to complete our exams and they were conducted under an open-book format. Furthermore, there was also a reduction in the number of essays which we were required to write per module and also a reduction in the word count per essay.
The exam formats were a lot easier than what they used to be considering that an originally 3-hour long sit-down closed book Property Law exam which required us to write 3 essays was now reduced to a 2 week long open book exam which only required us to write 2 essays.
Moreover, the University also implemented a ‘no-detriment’ policy where our overall grade for this academic year could only be positively affected by the results of this term.
Hence, it is evident that many considerable efforts were made to ease the difficulties faced by us students for the entire term.
Although a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders, I felt that the open-book examinations served as a disincentive to revise and understand the syllabus on a deeper level. This was also because the usual exam motivation was absent.
Therefore, to a certain extent, I felt that I was not reaching my full potential in terms of understanding some of the topics. Besides, being confined at home also produced an inherent desire to laze around, thus reducing productivity overall for me.
However, I acknowledge that the entire situation caused a lot of anxiety for many of my mates with some facing additional anxiety due to the economic downturn and the need to care for their loved ones. As the UK Universities have always placed great importance on the mental health and well-being of their students, I understand why they had to make the examination process so much easier for everyone.
Hence, I am grateful for being in the situation that I am currently in, knowing that many others are still struggling with everything that’s going on. I also do want to commend the University staff for doing an excellent job in tackling this pandemic in terms of the decisions they have made thus far.
Stepping into the Next Academic Year
With uncertainties still in the air, everyone is still unsure of what university would look like in the next academic year. Some universities including mine have announced a plan to have a blend of online lectures and face-to-face seminars in small groups. Staff members have also been helping committees of clubs and societies to conduct their activities online and promote registration.
However, as the situation is considerably unpredictable, the University has yet to give me a definite answer in terms of how the programme will be carried out. As for now, I can only hope for the best that the situation improves and universities return to how they were previously like soon.
Nicholas Lee Heng Jin
The University of Sheffield