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Year to finish not with a bang but a whimper

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent UK lockdown has thrown the academic year into disarray.

UEA summer staples such as Derby Day, society balls, and the inevitable speculation about whether Uea(su) could reinstate Pimp My Barrow are all on the backburner.

As pubs, restaurants and cafés have shut owing to the lockdown many students have also lost a regular source of income, and are struggling to pay for food, bills and rent.

Since the start of the UK lockdown, Uea(su) Welfare officer Amelia Trew has set up a food bank for students.

“34 parcels were put together that will feed one student each for a week,” she said. “These are being handed out to students on campus by security with help of Student Services to help alleviate financial difficulties during this period. I am trying to work with the university to ensure that there is a sufficient plan to support these students once these food parcels run out.”

UEA has since agreed to donate food from Campus Kitchen to the food bank.

Photo: parcels ready for delivery to students, Amelia Trew

However, students are not only worrying about food. Loss of student jobs has left some UEA students calling for more clarity on why the University insists they will not refund tuition fees. In an open letter to the University third year chemistry student Katie Littler, 21, wrote: “I understand the university have little control over tuition fees. However, there is a question to be asked as to what the tuition fee for the final semester of this academic year is for. 

She added: “I understand staff are working remotely, but the campus resources such as the library are now closed. Students will not be receiving what their tuition fees usually pay for”.

UEA said it would not offer refunds to students because the University is “striving to provide sufficient support to all students so they can successfully graduate or progress to their next year of study”.

The University has asked students worried about their financial situation in the wake of coronavirus and a UK-wide lockdown to consider the UEA Hardship Fund, which students can apply to via Student Services.

Miss Trew and Uea(su) Campaigns and Democracy officer Sophie Atherton have both signed a letter asking the members of Parliament for Norwich North and South to persuade local student housing agencies to ask landlords to change existing contracts for students. Miss Trew has also lobbied private landlords who are part of Homerun to do the same. Both Uea(su) officers hope this will help students save money on rent.

Miss Trew said: “Without a doubt there are students who are facing financial difficulties that are likely to have their mental health impacted alongside.”

A survey by Ipsos Mori found close to 70% of 18 to 24 year olds were struggling to remain positive about the future. By contrast only 54% of people aged 55-75 felt the same way. Most students at UEA have gone home after the University announced all teaching had been moved online. 

In a poll conducted by Concrete 77% of students said they were unhappy with the way the academic year has ended. 

Harriet Davies, a third year year chemistry student said: “We’re expected to carry on as normal when nothing is normal.”

But some students said they were not unhappy, including Jamie Firman, a third year English literature with creative writing student. He said he wasn’t unhappy “because I know these are emergency times and the Uni[versity] is trying very hard to help us and my academics aren’t too affected – I will still be taught enough to have a true degree and it isn’t over yet”.

It remains to be seen how the pandemic may affect UEA in the years ahead. However, in an interview with Concrete coronavirus expert Prof Paul Hunter said the virus would not go away soon. “It is going to be around for a while yet, possibly several years”, he said.

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Chris Matthews