The students are revolting: coronavirus hits halls

Student halls across the UK are being put into lockdown, leaving thousands of freshers cooped up in box rooms, isolated from family, and watching sub-par online lectures. We go inside Manchester Metropolitan, one of the universities worst affected by the crisis, in search of signs of life – and of protest.

Cancelled exams. Wonky algorithms causing A‑Level result fiascos. Celebrating rite-of-passage birthdays over Zoom. Youth unemployment at an all-time high. Pub’s shutting early. Rule changes and U‑turns so sharp that they might as well be called V‑turns.

It’s tough being 18 in 2020

At the beginning of September eager freshers – having been actively told to start university and repeatedly assured that it would definitely be safe to move into halls – started settling into campus life and getting to know their six-strong social bubbles. They hit the pub for table-service pints and hit college buildings for socially-distanced lectures. 

Then the inevitable happened. Thousands of teens from all over the country interacting in crowded accommodation meant Covid cases started to rise – fast. 

Outbreaks in Dundee, Exeter, Glasgow, Manchester and many more means that multiple institutions across the UK are now enforcing some form of lockdown, with the government even threatening to stop students returning home for Christmas… before then going back on what they said. As usual.

At Manchester Met, 1700 freshers across Birley campus and Cambridge Halls were put into a two-week lockdown after 127 students tested positive for coronavirus on 26th September. For some who had already been quarantining for two weeks due to one of their new flatmates testing positive, this would mean a month of isolation even if they were showing no symptoms. 

All this after a month of eating out to help out, then being encouraged to embark on higher education (at the same exorbitant costs).

No wonder the students are revolting.

9k 4 what?” so says a sign plastered across a window where they’ve currently holed up for the foreseeable future. Refund our tuition” reads another – a fair demand, all things considered.

What else are 2020’s Generation Fresher thinking and feeling? We went down to the halls to take socially distanced photos and shout questions through open windows.

Leah Forber, 19, first year Fine Art 

I’m Covid-positive because there wasn’t enough done in the first place to prepare for the outbreak. Now I’ve ended up being in a flat that’s nearly all Covid-positive. 

The first few days that I knew I was Covid-positive I spent it indoors crying because it’s awful. It’s the awful feeling that the uni has failed me because they didn’t plan for this. The government didn’t plan for this. Nothing was done for the students. We’ve absolutely been let down. 

Tom James Clark, 20, first year Primary Education

It’s not going to be the full uni experience, and we don’t really know when it will be that full uni experience. Not everybody has the answer – it is a bit scary. There were talks about not being allowed to go home for Christmas and that’s weird. I want to go home for Christmas. 

Haifa Donnelly, 22, first year Environmental Science 

I’m an overseas student so I don’t get a maintenance loan. It was only when I got here that I realised that there was only one lecture in an actual hall and all the rest were going to be online. 

When I finally got my timetable I thought: Oh God, I probably could have stayed at home.” I just felt a bit cheated and that they had taken my money yet I can’t really get the proper learning experience. Paying nine grand for the tuition but I’m not even getting half the number of hours online? It doesn’t really make sense. 

I think it was a greedy choice that they’ve made, knowing coronavirus was [still] here. They knew that this was a possibility, yet they still didn’t disclose that.

Rosa-May Bown, 18, first year Multimedia Journalism 

I’m not happy paying nine-and-a-half grand for online learning. There are a few things you can do online – half of my course is really practical, while the other half is pretty written, which is fine. But I’m doing multimedia journalism and it’s hard when you’re trying to learn to use a camera from someone over the web.

Joshua Stuart, 19, first year Film and Media Studies 

It was good for about a week and then downhill from there. At the beginning me and my flat went to the student bar, but when you go to bars it’s like a six person rule meaning it’s hard to make friends with people outside of your flat. 


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