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Different, but valuable

  • 12 November 2020
  • By Jenny Shaw

This blog was contributed by Jenny Shaw​, Student Experience Director at Unite Students. You can find Jenny on Twitter @jennyshaw

When Big Ben finally rings the chimes on 2021, I doubt that many of us will give a sigh of regret that 2020 has gone. After a uniquely challenging and, frankly, very surreal year it will be a relief to look forward to better times and perhaps a bit more certainty.

At the time of writing, students have just been given clarity about their ability to return home for Christmas. This puts an end to weeks of speculation, but of course begs the question as to what happens in the New Year.

Let me start by saying that I understand that not all students move between student accommodation and ‘home’, and indeed I have worked very closely with students who do not have a home other than their student accommodation. However, this blog concerns itself with the majority of students who have just learned that they are going home for the winter break.

The results of our poll of 1,000 students, released today, should be helpful to those addressing this question when the time is right. Hot off the press – it was completed less than a week ago – it provides evidence that students are mostly happy with their choice to go to, or return to, university. The majority of first years (81%) agree with the statement: ‘This is not how I expected my first year at university to be but I value my time here’. And across all years of study, most students (81%) are happy with their decision to go to university this year rather than deferring or interrupting.

Students are also prepared to vote with their feet. Almost all (93%) say they are likely to continue their course, with only 2% saying it is unlikely. There is also a surprisingly strong desire to be there in person. Of those who have moved away from home, 82% are happy with their decision to be there and 92% like the greater independence that it brings. 85% say that it is likely they will stay on in their accommodation, with only 7% saying it is unlikely.

Unless the progress of COVID absolutely rules it out, the results of this poll suggest that a January return to campus would align with students’ own wishes and preferences. The polling data can also provide guidance going into 2021 as we prepare to support those students who are finding it harder this year. In particular, it is concerning that only 52% of student report that they are meeting new people and making friends, when peers rank as the most significant source of support.

Finally, I believe this poll offers a much-needed vote of confidence in universities and accommodation providers who have worked tirelessly throughout most of 2020 to provide a safe and positive experience for students. Was it worth it? The answer, according to students, is a resounding ‘yes’.

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