“I am an agricultural student in final year, most of my final year grades are attributed to large projects and assignments, so resitting exams wouldn’t cut it. I’ve had to shoulder the lambing and calving on the farm alone, as my father has lung issues and is cocooning, and the single employee to help him is a transplant recipient, so is on immunosuppressants and is too high risk to continue working here. So, I’m doing long hours and regular night checks alone, and my mother is a nurse working long, stressful hours so I’m expected to do the farming and have housework done and food on the table. I had a GPA for a 1.1 prior to this, and if I manage to find time to submit even one project on time this semester, it will be a lower standard of work than anything I’ve ever contributed over my four years at UCD. My entire degree is going down the drain thanks to UCD and their ‘measures’.” – anonymous UCD student.
Less than two weeks after Ireland reported its first case of COVID-19, schools and colleges around the country were advised to shut their doors and to continue the academic year online. It soon became clear that many students across Ireland were deeply unsatisfied with the measures put in place by their respective universities. In late March many student petitions began to emerge demanding for a ‘No Detriment’ policy. This policy is intended to act as a safety net for students who fear that their academic achievement may be negatively impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. T.Ds and political parties across Ireland began to call for the policy, in support of students. With many students feeling as though their voices have still gone unheard, the College Tribune carried out a survey to investigate why students were calling for such a policy. Since this survey completed, UCD have implemented sweeping measures to address the issues at the heart of this movement and have provided academic relief to thousands of students. The measures have been met with a resoundingly positive reaction from the student body.
One question in our survey asked students to describe their home situations and factors that hindered their studies. We received almost 25,000 words from UCD students, detailing the tough situations they are going through. Here are their stories:
Many students noted that their home environment was not suitable for work. Noise and space tended to be among the most reported issues by students. One student explains “living in an apartment block means I can’t control the noise levels of my multiple neighbours.” During quarantine there’s been so much more loud music, and loud indoor workouts that make it difficult to focus”. Similarly, with people forced to spend all day together, many students do not have any space to work. One student reports “living in a small apartment with other frantic final years. We all have theses due by the end of the semester, the Wi-Fi isn’t suitable for so much use, there is no room to swing a cat in the apartment and no outside space and tensions are mounting”.
With classes moving online, it was unavoidable that some students would struggle with access to strong Wi-Fi connection. One student reported: “Internet is extremely poor, [it] could take up to 15 minutes for a single journal article to load, increasing frustration and stress levels, have to walk away from the computer at times”. While poor internet connection can affect students from all over the country, it must be understood that students coming from a rural background are affected disproportionately. One student reports that “WiFi is exceptionally bad due to my rural location. I downloaded a veterinary book yesterday – it took 13 hours to download. I am at breaking point with worry about upcoming exams and my grades.”
Many students now find themselves with not only inadequate services, but also with new responsibilities. Another student commented “I start work in the HSE next week. I’m lucky because I can, we have no one in the house who needs to cocoon and I’m qualified enough to go to work there. I wouldn’t consider taking this job in my last month of final year other than the fact we need an income in this house”.
While students around Ireland struggle with adjusting to their new responsibilities, international students call that they are not forgotten. One student reports: “All my books and physical study materials are still in Dublin, and I will not have access to these until I can return”.
Another international student pleads: “Please keep international students like myself in mind, we all may be in our houses, but not all of us our home”.
It must also be remembered that mature students are also struggling with this change, alongside additional stresses such as looking after their children.
“I am a mature student and a single parent living in a rural location. I live with my teenage daughter who is being treated for anxiety. I have two sets of elderly neighbours living nearby that I am helping with self-isolation. My internet service is slow, and connectivity is not stable. With everything going on I am feeling the stress as it is just me that has to do everything, I have no support system to help out in any way”.
While some students are not experiencing difficult situations in relation to their external environment, many students report that their mental health is suffering.
“My mental health is steadily deteriorating knowing that work I physically cannot bring myself to do is piling up and the uncertainty of how examinations will run isn’t helping either”. Other students noted that they were now unable to receive therapy in person, and that this was having a negative impact on their mental health.
There remains one question: What about the ‘lucky’?
One student comments: “I understand how privileged I am to have a good environment to study from home, and if anything, the covid-19 situation has taken pressure off me academically”, while another student comments: “I’m living at home with my parents. I know I’m lucky – I have a good study space, decent internet and a good atmosphere. Nonetheless, I’m still struggling. Everything has changed – I cannot focus due to paralyzing fear of what’s going on”.
Though there are hundreds of stories like those outlined above, each story has its differences. Every student is dealing with their own version of COVID-19 reality, and this is a disparity that cannot be ignored when considering assessment.
In response to a previous question about whether students felt cared for in UCD, one student replied “I do not know if UCD cares about me, or any other students, but now is the time for them to prove that they do.”
Let’s just hope these new supports will be enough.
Student Advisors, Chaplains, and your Students’ Union Welfare Officer are available to give you more information on the support you can avail of in UCD.
Savannah Murray – Features Writer