On 17th October 2020, London moved up to Tier 2 on the Coronavirus Lockdown System, edging even closer to a local lockdown. The new regulations mean we cannot mix with anyone outside of our household and are limited on social events we can attend. For freshers, this is an incredibly hard start at university. Over the last few weeks, several university accommodations going into complete self-isolation after students have tested positive, there have even been reports of students holding ‘COVID-positive’ parties, where entrance is allowed if they can prove they have a positive COVID result. These are strange times for us all as we try to adapt to a ‘new normal’ which also seems to be backing track on moving forward in response to rising numbers. As things are changing so rapidly, what does the future look like for new students at Queen Mary?
The university did not clarify what the new semester would look like until mid-August, a month before students would be starting back. Many students by then had already organised accommodation and were applying for jobs to support them during the new term. Once we were informed that all classes would be online, it was a relief for those who were choosing already to spend the semester at home, but, for those who wanted to stay in London, it was a conflict to consider before the year started, especially while there was still suggestion some classes could take place in-person. The principal, Colin Bailey, has provided weekly updates, which have been useful in terms of relaying news back to students. Though needed, they still scarcely explain what is going to be the plan for the rest of the year, or whether students should really consider living on campus, or even simply attending the library.
The Queen Mary security have been checking students going on campus and, presumably, this will likely increase with the new tier advancement. The question is, how will this affect us in January? There is confusion whether students should consider going home, especially if they come from tier 2 or above regions, or even from abroad. Some have suggested students shouldn’t return if they do choose to go home for Christmas, but for those who have signed long-lease rent contracts or that have job commitments, the decision to remain at home becomes an impossible one.
These concerning issues do present us with the issue of whether we should be prioritising mental health. Statistics for students suffering from mental problems at the start of university was high even before COVID, with one in three freshers suffering with a mental health disorder, but this year there will likely be an increase with the limited opportunities to meet people and even socialise with current friends to support each other’s mental health.
Queen Mary advice and counselling services offer links to websites, and appointments can be made with a university counsellor, but these may be difficult to obtain in the current climate as more students are reaching out to the services than normal. So how is the university ensuring students’ mental health? There is limited information on what help is on offer, besides Queen Mary’s own service and external web links, to ensure students mental health protection. The university needs to make the well-being and security of its new students a priority. It’s likely that next year will feel the effects of online learning, and hopefully it’ll be clearer for those new students what their year of learning will look like. We can only hope that things will improve and new students will have a better university experience for the remaining years of their degree.