Blog 20. Impact of COVID-19: University lives in transition (includes comic)

By Divya Jindal-Snape and Jonathan Glazzard

Students across the world have been experiencing multiple transitions related to their studies, family life and employment, to name a few. Students go to university not only to achieve an academic qualification but also for the student experience. They enjoy the social aspect of university life, they enjoy going onto campus and meeting their friends and lecturers. Students told us that they struggled to maintain motivation for studying due to the disruption to their usual routines. Our conversations with students during lockdown demonstrated that they experienced a sense of loss. One student described feeling ‘robbed’; robbed of their student lifestyle, robbed of campus learning, robbed of end of course celebrations such as graduations and robbed of the social networks that they had established during their time at university. It was important to students that the end of their courses and academic achievements were recognised and celebrated. This is similar to the views expressed by school students and is reflected in our comic ‘Lost, and found, in transitions’ (Blog post 6) and national celebrations such as that ‘Big School Bell’ by Rites for Girls. University students used their creativity and initiative to design their own online graduations. Universities have also led on these celebrations.

Similarly, university staff have been facing multiple transitions due to working from home, changes in their teaching style and interactions with students, preparing for online learning, creation of digital resources, dealing with uncertainties about when university campuses will open, financial loss faced by the universities and security of their employment. Further, the transitions of their students and family have also triggered their transitions, highlighting the multi-dimensional nature of transitions.

We have created the comic, ‘University lives in transition’, to illustrate the impact of COVID-19 on multiple and multi-dimensional transitions of university students and staff. This comic, written by Jonathan Glazzard, Samuel Stones, Divya Jindal-Snape and Chris Murray, with artwork by Catriona Laird, draws on the lived experiences of some students and staff , as well as our research about higher education transitions and comic studies.

The comic illustrates some of the aforementioned concerns through the stories of teacher education students: will schools be open, what will happen to their placements and what will happen to their subsequent employment? These are concerns that many university students have expressed across a range of disciplines. It also highlights some of the challenges faced by international students who have not been able to return to their home countries due to lockdown. They have been concerned about their families, especially when they are from countries with high rates of COVID-19 and deaths. Further, these international students became very isolated when stringent lockdown was in place, for example in the UK. Some international students have reported that this has had a detrimental impact on their mental health. It also highlights the issues faced by students who are parents and the impact of their children’s transitions on these students, such as in the case of the student who mentions that they can’t focus on their studies due to their children being home schooled. 

The comic also highlights the multiple and multi-dimensional transitions of staff. It illustrates that transitions experienced in their professional life had an impact on their personal life and vice versa; their partner and children have had an impact on their professional transitions, for example in the case of the university staff who have been furloughed for childcare reasons. Finally, it provides some strategies for managing these transitions for staff and how they can support their students.

Here is a link to the information published by Universities UK to support the university community which might be helpful to staff and students. You can also find some resources to help with your mental health here.

This comic is available for free download and you can print it for educational purposes.

Download the comic here.

We would be grateful if you could kindly complete a brief questionnaire about this comic. It will take you no more than 5 minutes.

You can access the questionnaire here.

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