COVID-19: the student experience

As we approach one year on from the first lockdown in the UK, OT  is looking back at how the student and pre-registration experience has changed, and what could be next

student on laptop
Pexels/Vlada Karpovich

Another week of lockdown restrictions has rolled past, and in some ways, there is a sense that perhaps a way out could be ahead.

The vaccination programme appears to be closing in on its initial target of reaching 15 million of the most vulnerable people in the country, with ambitions to reach everyone in cohorts one to nine by the end of April.

In a statement last night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested he would be discussing steps “back to normality” over the next few weeks, and the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has begun drawing up plans for a phased return to universities in England.

And yet, day-to-day life for many continues in much the same way as it has for the past few months. Many have touched on the additional struggles that the third lockdown has brought, and students, in particular, are working through a unique and often lonely time.

Reflecting on findings from the first academic term, Student Minds, a charity supporting student wellbeing, reported that: “Students at all ages and levels of study have had to adapt to a drastically different learning and social environment.

“Many students are facing uncertainty about the future, job loss, academic issues, disruption to ongoing mental health support, and financial difficulties.”

This week, we learned that universities in England are to be given an additional £50m by the Government to support students who are struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. This follows a £20m hardship funding package announced in December.

While this could provide relief for some students facing adverse effects from the pandemic, higher education representatives have suggested this move could be “a sticking plaster and not the answer.”

Universities UK chief executive, Alistair Jarvis, highlighted the need for further support to respond to the impact the pandemic has had on student’s experiences and wellbeing.

He explained: “Although university staff are making huge efforts to offer high quality online learning, the Government should provide support that recognises that students are missing out on the wider student experience that they would benefit from in a normal year.”

Over the past year, the OT team has also heard from optometry students and pre-registration optometrists about the specific challenges they have faced. This has included adjusting to remote learning and new approaches to exams, to placements falling through and delays to the Scheme for Registration, as well as concerns around the social and wellbeing consequences of the lockdown restrictions.

As we approach a year on from the first lockdown in the UK, we are planning to look back at how the student and pre-registration experience has been affected.

But, with the myriad changes that have been made as a result of the pandemic, what could still be to come?

Speaking to OT in September, second-year Aston University student, Indy Ghuman, told us: “The virus is going to accelerate developments in optometry and how it is practised. This will be reflected in the way we study and are trained…this will lead to innovation and improvements in the long-term.”

This is a topic the OT team is planning to explore further, and as part of this, we want to hear from our student readers.

If you are a student or pre-registration optometrist, we would love if you could take a look at the following polls and share your views.

Additionally, if you would like to share your experience as a student or pre-registration optometrist, a lecturer or supervisor, please get in touch with the OT team to help us as we explore this topic.

Current students How would you describe your experience over the past year of university?
  • Positive

    7 7%
  • Somewhat positive

    3 3%
  • Neutral

    7 7%
  • Both positive and negative

    28 28%
  • Somewhat negative

    24 24%
  • Mostly negative

    30 30%
Pre-registration optometrists How would you describe the past year of pre-registration?
  • Positive

    0 0%
  • Somewhat positive

    4 4%
  • Neutral

    1 1%
  • Both positive and negative

    17 19%
  • Somewhat negative

    14 16%
  • Mostly negative

    50 58%
Students and pre-registration optometrists How do you feel currently about the future of the profession you are joining?
  • Positive

    8 5%
  • Somewhat positive

    14 10%
  • Neutral

    9 6%
  • Both positive and negative

    31 22%
  • Somewhat negative

    48 35%
  • Mostly negative

    26 19%

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