COVID-19 has impacted almost every facet of society on a global scale from the hospitality industry to care homes to the stock market – the list could go on. One facet that has suffered the effects of this insufferable virus greatly is the education system, specifically the university experience anticipated by first year students. I interviewed a first year Russell Group university student whose expectations for higher education life were not met.

After asking them about the impact of COVID on their university experience, this student responded saying “I wouldn’t say it’s been disappointing, but it has been really different to the way I’ve imagined it to be.” She continued, elaborating that “my friends are quite disappointed, but I’ve really tried to have a good time because I think experience is what you make of it, so I just improvised and do a lot of things outside, so rather than going clubbing, we’d be going to the beach or going to the park.” She mentioned that her social life “has been drastically effected as [she] can’t branch out and meet new people or invite people places and have the traditional uni experience.” She believes that “[she] has been really lucky” as she already knew people going to her university and had quite a few mutual friends with the other students. On the topic of meals, she argued that “the meal times are really quite annoying because we have to sit at our desks by ourselves and eat food by ourselves which is quite sad because meal time is usually a sociable thing.” On the issue of lectures, this student said what she believed all other students would agree on that “only one face-to-face lecture isn’t enough as under normal circumstances she would have been able to go out every single day and enjoy having lectures and seminars and stuff. Only having one interaction with any type of professor or teacher that’s not online or pre-recorded is ridiculous.”

I continued the interview, questioning the student on the things she wished she was able to do, but couldn’t under COVID rules. She stated that “obviously I wanted to go clubbing, there’s a festival in Edinburgh. There’s usually lots of festivals and dance party kind of things. Like the Woodlands Dance Festival which was meant to happen, but didn’t and Christmas markets aren’t happening. I wanted to go to live lectures. I wanted to sit in a lecture theatre and have that really conventional university experience. I wanted to go out with my friends and not have to worry about being in groups of six. I want to be able to go to frat parties and be able to go have fun, so just normal stuff that you’d expect in an everyday university experience I would have liked to do things like that.” Despite all these activities and traditional university experiences, she has had to miss out on, she still doesn’t question whether university was the right choice for her, stating “I don’t ever question if university was worth it. I’ve always wanted to go.” She follows this saying that “I question whether it would have been better for me to take a year off and come back with things being hopefully less like this, but I think I wouldn’t change my experience for anything.”

When asking her what she believed the Russell Group university could do better, she responded with “more face-to-face lectures and maybe be more empathetic to the students who are struggling the most, more interaction in general. I mean for Christ’s sake we’re paying nine grand a year for glorified YouTube videos. The university needs to check up on the students more often.” She also mentioned her desire for a higher quality of food from her college – “what I’ve heard about last year’s food is that there were more healthier options and a lot more choice. There’s hardly any choice this year.”

Finally, I asked the interviewee on what she imagined her university experience to be like before the virus interfered in the higher education system. She stated that “this university experience was far from what I ever imagined. I imagined going away for the weekends and having big club nights and going to traditional lectures and running round the library with my friends without having to wear a mask or sanitize my hands every five minutes. Instead, my friends can’t go out, can’t socialise and are stuck in their rooms all day, lonely and depressed.” She mentioned how she tries to stay positive during this daunting time, stating “I am concerned about staying healthy and that my mental health is in good shape. I’ve been going on lots of runs and walks and making sure I don’t lock myself away because any interaction just helps so much.”