Freshers’ week: What will student life look like?

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Studying at university will understandably look a lot different this semester

As students from across Northern Ireland start to head back to university after their summer break, it has become clear that their learning experience will look very different.

BBC News NI speaks to students about how their studying process will change and how they are feeling about the prospective year ahead.

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Ethan Kenny

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Ethan studies Drama and English at Queens University

Ethan Kenny is going into his second year at Queen’s University and studies a Bachelors degree in English and Drama.

“We got an email from the university at the start of all this saying they were going to be taking a ‘blended approach’, which involved some online studying and being on campus as much as possible.

“We were originally hoping for that, as we had arranged student accommodation and signed contracts which would be difficult to get out of.

“But each school within the university has now taken their own precautions. So English has told us that lectures are online and seminars are in person but again that could change.”

‘No overall ruling voice’

He added: “This year I enrolled in a musical theatre module, which is now going to be completely online. I would have to do that in my room.

“That could be awkward as with my other housemates working from home and taking lectures online, they will be able to hear me belting out Oklahoma.

“I don’t think this is very workable and I’m not a fan of online. I have found there has been no overall ruling voice on all the changes.”

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Ethan Kenny

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Ethan and his housemates outside their student house

He explains that he thinks living in a student house will be more difficult due to the new restrictions.

“It will be hard on the bandwidth of the WiFi and with more electricity being used, bills will rack up more.

“It will also be difficult to meet other friends, because we won’t be able to have people round to our house. Also, not all my housemates have moved into our house yet, so are they allowed to move in now?”

Ethan added that his second freshers’ week “doesn’t look like it will be anything”.

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Jamie Gregg

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Jamie studies part time at Ulster University

Jamie Gregg studies Computing Systems part time at Ulster University while doing an internship at a tech company alongside his course.

He said that his university had sent regular emails since the start of the pandemic and he was told very early on they would be studying from home.

His course has now been moved entirely online, which “doesn’t make that much of a difference”.

“Because our course is tech-based, doing it from home is fine but I now don’t see anyone on my course, I just see their names sitting in the online list during the lecture,” he said.

‘I would hate to not bump into anybody’

He added: “Going into second year, it’s not too bad, but if you were a first-year, you would want to meet your lecturers at least.”

James has also been carrying out his apprenticeship from home: “I’d be surprised if we ever come back full time if I’m honest.”

He thinks the way people work in the tech industry will change due to the pandemic.

“There won’t be a push for us to go back full-time. I’m happy enough, I would take the opportunity to not work exclusively from home and to go back part-time, I would just hate never to bump into anybody.”

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Aimee Bell

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Aimee studies broadcast production at Queen’s University

Aimee Bell studies Broadcast production at Queen’s University, which she describes as a “practical course”.

“We haven’t heard too much about how the course is going to run, but my lecturer has told us they are trying their best to get us as much hands-on experience as possible”, she said.

“We have our timetables, and we are assuming that we are going into university but this could all change again if there is another lockdown. We are all on the edge of our seat.”

She explains that her attitude towards university and the pandemic has changed since March, saying “I was happy to leave and didn’t feel comfortable in classes.

“But now time has passed and we have been through lockdown, I am ready to go back.”

‘We will wear our masks’

“I feel that if we wear our masks and put the trust in our university that they have taken the correct precautions to keep us socially distanced, it will be fine.”

Aimee adds that she has felt very supported by her university during the pandemic.

“We had a practical module last year and it couldn’t be done remotely so we were all concerned.

“But they were very good at giving us a choice and gave us the option of doing an alternative assessment or taking an applied grade if we wanted to.

“I have had no issues at all and I have been very pleasantly surprised by it all.”

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Ewan is a final year student at the university of Ulster

Ewan Nelson is going into his final year of University studying software engineering.

He moved home early in March once the pandemic hit and has decided to live at home in his final year as a result.

“My housemates and I decided that there was no point in living in our own house if we were all going to have to potentially isolate.

His lectures have all moved online, which, he says, makes him nervous as a final year student.

“I’m annoyed that I’m going to have to pay full tuition where I’m not going to be getting the full compliments of the course like people in previous years.

Looking at the year ahead, Ewan said: “I’m at the point now where I just want to get this year out of the way and, if I can make it through the pandemic and get my degree, I’ll be happy enough.”

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