Lectures online and strictly no partying. One graduate argues why university is still the best of times

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  • It's not so easy making new friends when you're social distancing and stuck watching lectures in student digs. Well, we're here to talk silver linings

    Ah, the promised land of university. As around 1 million students head to university and college this month let’s remember when moving away from home meant eat, sleep, drink, party, repeat. But that was back in the olden times when that magical heady portal of higher education promised limitless opportunities.

    Limitless opportunities to make fantastic new friends in freshers week (then spending the rest of the first year realising you’ve made a TERRIBLE mistake. No? Just me then). And what about all those flings and the Real Thing swooping you up, allowing you to reveal your deeply intelligent, chic responsible inner grown-up. Finally not forgetting a few lecture visits, seminars and a spot of revision. You know just to keep your hand in.

    Freshers Week 

    For the hundreds of thousands of students heading to campus, college life is nothing like the above. It’s watching online lectures with minimal face-to-face teaching, living in socially-distanced student accommodation and, sob, freshers weeks have either been cancelled or are virtual events only.

    Just to make it even more challenging, let’s throw in the rule of six and fines for breaking it. Dancing, drinking and flirting at parties is firmly off the timetable this year.

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    (Getty Images)

    Undergraduates have even been warned they could be kicked out if they do not follow the rules. Many universities are paying for Covid Marshals to break up mass gatherings and stop undergraduates flouting pandemic rules. So where are this year’s students going to find their fun and make those life-long friendships?

    Author Hannah Sunderland offers hope with her paean to university life and how, no matter what the circumstances, it really can be the best days of your life…

    University reinvention

    ‘Back in September 2011, I set off for the exotic new world of university. After the initial panic and quick sob into my brand-new Dunelm Student Essentials pillow, I was ready to meet the people I’d be living with for the next year and forge some unlikely friendships.

    Some of them were a little strange but, hey, that didn’t matter anymore, it was okay to befriend the weirdos. Maybe I was the weird one, but that didn’t matter either, because at university you can reinvent yourself and become whoever you want to be.

    You can be friends with the goth, the thespian, the astrophysicist and the sport psychologist and there is no one who will bat an eyelid. This is what university was for me. A meeting of people, a group of friends who wouldn’t have met anywhere else.

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    Author Hannah Sunderland

    Of course, it is about the work too. But long after that degree is bound in ribbon and thrust into your hand, the friendships you make are what will be a part of your everyday life. Hey, you might find yourself going into business with that girl who really annoyed you for the first year and a half.

    But students beginning their university career in 2020 are facing a very different prospect. One-way systems around campuses have turned them into dystopian ghost towns. How on earth are you ever going to bump into anyone interesting and strike up a nervously awkward conversation. 

    For those who aren’t Jägerbomb and kebab-at-the-curb sort of people, this will alleviate the peer pressure during the baptism of fire that Freshers Week can often be. It may also lessen the amount of stomach pumps and STD kits needed over the course of the academic year. But still, the inaugural Covid class are getting much less than expected.

    Boris Johnson has warned students against travelling home, and while this is completely understandable, it may see more introverted students feeling isolated and lonely. I found being away from my family harder than I had expected. So I never went the whole term without popping home a few times to see my cat and raid the  kitchen for tins of tuna and a block of Cathedral City.

    Unique experience

    Blaming clandestine parties for spikes in infection rates seems to be fair game these days, but I find it hard to condemn students for wanting a scrap of what they signed up for back in a pre-Covid world. This has also called into question the student fees that these students are still paying through the nose for. With limited class sizes and some being written off in favour of virtual, hands-off classes, is £9,250 a fair monetary reflection of what these students are getting?

    The measures taken by universities across the country are difficult, but necessary and we can only hope that next year is a different story. I’m hoping students make up for this underwhelming induction by having twice the blow out in 2021. 

    But one thing is for certain, this will be a memorable year and the Covid class of 2020 are all sharing a unique experience in these sci-fi inspired times. While this may lessen the quantity of friendships they could have made, I remain hopeful it will only enhance the quality of the ones they do make.’

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    * Hannah Sunderland’s debut novel, Very Nearly Normal, is available in all formats

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