Freshers Uncertainty in the Midst of the Coronavirus

These unprecedented times are worrying for everyone, but not least the upcoming 2020 freshers who are clouded by uncertainty, as their futures lie in the hands of a few teachers and UCAS employees.

The University of Nottingham reassures students online that it “will do everything it can to support applications in these unprecedented times” adding, “we will contact you with any of the information you may need”.  Nottingham Trent have also followed suit, stating that “we understand that this is a worrying time for everyone, and we’re here to support you”.

However, students are worried that these words are simply not enough. They want concrete action on how universities are going to move forward consistently so that there is a clear and fair approach for students.

Whilst many universities rushed to offer students unconditional offers, they have since been pushed back by the universities minister Nicola Dandrige who warned that changing offers at this stage “risks destabilising the entire admissions systems” and adds unnecessary pressure on students to commit to courses. Universities have been asked to continue pausing their unconditional offer making until the 20th of April at the earliest. There are also fears that the dishing out of unconditional offers is a ploy by universities to fill quotas without realising the true academic potential of students and is therefore not in their best interests.  

Impact has conducted an exclusive survey of students from across the UK and the results showed that over 40% of those surveyed had an unconditional offer, suggesting that this is an increasingly popular tactic from universities.

The University of Nottingham made the decision to end unconditional offers last year as many students who got them were under-performing, but many think it’s only right to give out unconditional offers during this time as students need reassurance that they can make it into university.

“almost 9 out of 10 applicants are still setting their sights on higher education”

UCAS has extended deadlines for students to reply to offers until May to give students some breathing space. Many students are, understandably, still unclear about what they want to do next. UCAS’ website states that almost 9 out of 10 applicants are still setting their sights on higher education, indicating that it is still the preferred path forward.

The government has since put out a statement for students which can be found here with the aim of offering reassurance. They state, “calculated results will draw on a range of evidence, depending on the structure of the qualification.” Many students are unsatisfied with this response as they feel it can put students with certain qualifications above those with others and teachers may exert favouritism in some cases. On top of this, many students feel that they perform far better in the final exams meaning their predicted grades will disadvantage them, as they didn’t prepare as hard for the mock exam, which is what a large proportion of their grades seems to be based on.

“universities may not start for freshers until January 2021″

This uncertainty has also been made worse by reports that suggest universities may not start for freshers until January 2021, with students having to engage in online classes. With many students already having to complete online assignments, there is a lack of enthusiasm for this to drag on beyond September with an unclear start date.

Impact’s survey also found that whilst the majority felt supported by their desired university, 14% felt that they had no support or communication at all. Adding to this, 60% agreed that they had been disadvantaged in some way academically by missing out on valuable time in year 13 due to coronavirus. Whilst most (65%) are still excited for freshers, the majority share the fear that predicted grades will disadvantage them in gaining a university place, and only a few feel certain that university will go ahead as planned in September.

These results therefore show that whilst students remain largely optimistic for what lies ahead, they still feel as though they’ve been left behind in the education system due to coronavirus, with not enough support.

A student who is due to attend UCL in September also added that her biggest concern was “missing out on having a proper transition” and that the prospect of online learning is “frustrating given the current fees for university education that we may not get the experience we are paying for”. Another, who is due to attend Sheffield University added, “it was such an abrupt end [to school] and I was really not ready to leave”.

So whilst it seems unlikely that coronavirus will end in the near future and this is beyond our power, what universities and teachers must do is prioritise students’ mental health during this challenging time, and ensure they have the guidance and clarity needed to make their next steps to university or alternative higher education routes. Whatever approach these institutions choose to take, it must be consistent so that certain students aren’t disadvantaged more than others. Universities must be able to adapt if they are to keep getting the intake they need, but it is the students that should be prioritised first and not treated as just a quota.

The full results of Impact’s survey can be found here.

If you want the see the University of Nottingham’s official response for applicants, click here.

Lauren McGaun

Featured image courtesy of Shamraze/Nuhaize via Flickr. No changes made to this image. Image license found here

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