The pandemic turned university life upside down in 2020. Students signed up to a very different experience to the one that eventually materialised, and campus life is still a long way from returning to normal.
For large chunks of the year, students have been confined to their halls, starved of the social life that makes university such an enriching experience. Their educational program has also been significantly diluted, with universities forced into moving the majority of lectures and assessments on to virtual platforms.
All students will be feeling anxious about the gaps in their education, but recent graduates are now facing the added uncertainty of knowing whether they’re properly prepared for their chosen career. And employers are left feeling less assured their newest recruits can competently pull their weight.
One of the biggest concerns goes out to graduates entering the medical sector. Trainee doctors, dentists, and vets are heavily dependent on industry placements to help them transition safely into their profession. But the pandemic has meant students have been made to compromise on a vital stage of their development.
Final year medical students, for example, are required to pass assistantships before they can pass into the industry. In many cases they’ve been postponed, shortened or cancelled altogether.
Researcher BMC Medical Education recently surveyed a portion of final year med students to understand how they’d been impacted as a result of the disruption.
The results indicate the disturbance to their exams and assistantships has ‘significantly affected students’ preparedness’. As many as 59.3% of students in fact felt less prepared about entering the profession.
However, despite this looming level of uncertainty, a large portion of the student body were willing to put themselves forward early to support our frontline workers. Although commendable, they should still be entering the profession as trainees and universities have a duty of care to make sure they’re still given the right time and space to develop.
‘Given the unprecedented interruptions caused by the pandemic, it is clear that students should not be brought in to enhance the workforce without proper inductions, clear guidance on working within their competencies, pastoral support, and appropriate remuneration for their time. This is essential to maintaining both patient care and student wellbeing.’
Dental schools in Scotland have gone as far as putting students back a year to make up for insufficient clinical experience in aerosol generating procedures – a practice crucial to the majority of dental treatments.
The Scottish government has also provided extra bursary payments to make sure they fully catch up and feel confident about starting their career.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for our drama school students. Acting degrees are almost 100% practical and students can only really make the most of their course exploring their creativity in a drama studio. But instead, they’ve had to spend multiple terms learning behind the lid of their laptops.
Starting an acting career is an unstable path to tread at the best of times and their radically adapted training process is making it all the more unnerving.
Lamda Director, Sarah Francom had this to say in The Stage: ‘Everybody’s mental health is being tested by this period of time. For some of the students, there is an absolute fear and anxiety about whether they have a future in the industry.’
Thankfully, the Prime Minister’s first step in lifting lockdown restrictions means higher education courses that teach practically can return from the 8th of March.
However, it does still mean the majority of courses stay online until the Government reviews infection data at the end of the Easter holidays. And even if the results are heading in the right direction, it’ll be a long and staggered approach until all students are back inside university walls.
The impact on our current university undergraduates will be felt for years to come. But the vaccine programme does hopefully mean normal service should resume in time for the next academic year.
But the pandemic will surely force universities into reviewing how they responded to the crisis and make sure they’re better prepared to maintain educational standards if, but more likely when, one happens in the future.
Published date: 3rd March 2021
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