2020 has been a confusing and life-changing year for many. One of the groups largely impacted by the ongoing global pandemic is that of the student demographic, with virtual education being offered in lieu of physical sessions. But just how effective is online education, and what can be done to help students struggling during the pandemic and academic year?

In a recent interview, Henry Williams, Bangor University’s Student’s Union President, mentioned the impact of the pandemic on students:

This is a year like no other, and under the challenging circumstances students are naturally feeling overwhelmed and anxious but I also think they’ve adapted well to the new online systems.”

“We’ve received various feedback from students on their experiences during the Welcome period where most interaction with students happened online, with praise for some welcome activities but concerns raised on the confusion of what was on offer, and students obviously missing that face to face in-person interaction.”

In a recent Seren survey of 52 participants, we asked the question ‘Do you feel you are getting good value for money from your education this semester?’, to which 51.9% (27 respondents) strongly disagreed. 

The University’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic, however, was regarded mostly positively (32.7% ‘Adequate’; 19.2% ‘Good’; 5.8% ‘Amazing’). At the time of the survey being completed, anonymous responses suggested that Blackboard Collaborate – the new method for delivering seminars and collaborative sessions – was not great, and more communication was necessary.

 “We’ve seen an increase in engagement in some of our online club, society, and volunteering activities, and I hope students feel there’s enough variety of opportunities they can get involved with, even though some of them have to be delivered in a different way.”  

Henry also shares what Bangor’s Student’s Union has been focusing on and working through regarding the pandemic:

“In any discussions we’ve held with the University in the wake of the pandemic, we’ve stressed the need to retain a focus of the student experience and how any decisions can ultimately impact students and ensuring that the student voice is heard with regards to plans in relation to teaching, learning, and the wider student experience.”

The impact of the pandemic on the student experience is also threatened by plans to cut 200 jobs from the university in a bid to save £13m. 120 of these roles are suggested to be from professional service roles, including IT staff.

During a pandemic, student support is required more than ever. Henry Williams added this:

“It’s been harder for students to get to know each other and their course mates, and it’s harder to build that learning community online.”

“We also recognise that the Coronavirus and the current circumstances are having a big impact on the wellbeing of students, and students’ mental health is an increasing concern for us. Students are reporting that they have experienced feelings of isolation and loneliness and we realise students will require more support during this period.”

As such, a number of initiatives have been put in place to assist students during this tumultuous time. TheraTea is a weekly online session which allows students to air worries and talk to others every Monday morning. The session also features a guided yoga session.

Following government guidelines, Walk and Talk is also starting up again which comprises Campus Life and Student’s Union members taking students on a walk each week and allows for new (and safe!) interactions and a break from studying.

A new mental health initiative for men – Tackling The Taboo – has also been set up for Movember. Four sessions have already been arranged for men to talk about their mental health, share stories, and encourage a feeling of supportive community during the pandemic. 

Alongside the development of more support for students, the University is offering a new Digital- Hardship Fund. The fund offers £500 in order to “support students who experience barriers in accessing online delivery”. More information can be found on the University’s website.

During these stressful times, the support offered from the university and other institutions is more important than ever. Taking part in these activities and initiatives shows we’re all in this together, and that we can all help one another.

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News Editor | 2020-21

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