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More than half of students do not expect any more face-to-face teaching this academic year, but two-thirds of students are currently living in their usual term-time accommodation

  • 1 April 2021

The Higher Education Policy Institute has worked with YouthSight on a poll of over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting them.

The results show: 

  • Two-thirds of undergraduate students (66%) say they have not received any financial reimbursement from their university or accommodation provider as a result of the pandemic. Around a fifth (19%) have received reimbursement from their accommodation provider, 13% from their university and 2% from both.
  • Two-thirds of students (66%) are living in their usual term-time accommodation, whereas 34% are not.
  • Over half of students (56%) are not expecting to receive any more face-to-face teaching this academic year, compared to 44% who are.
  • Student satisfaction with online learning is at a similar level compared to November 2020, but up from the levels in March and June 2020 (54% now, compared to 59% in November, 42% in June and 49% in March 2020).
  • Around two-thirds (65%) of students say the messaging from their higher education institution on the impact of the pandemic on this academic year has been clear and around one-fifth (19%) say the messaging has been unclear.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of students say their mental health is a little or much worse as a result of the pandemic compared to just 14% who say their mental health is a little or much better. Just under a quarter (23%) describe their mental health as the same. One-fifth (21%) describe their mental health as much worse. 
  • Over a third (38%) of students are satisfied with the delivery of mental health services, whereas 50% of students are satisfied with the delivery of other support services. 

This follows on our three previous rounds of polling, undertaken at the start of the crisis in March 2020, at the end of the last academic year in June 2020 and during the last lockdown in November 2020. 

Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: 

In recent weeks we have seen more guidance published about how restrictions will start to be lifted across the UK, but the picture for students remains unclear. There is talk about the student ‘return to campus’, but these results clearly show that many students are already in their term-time accommodation, despite most not expecting face-to-face teaching to return this academic year. Governments across the UK should take heed of these results in developing their plans to ease restrictions. 

Despite the challenging circumstances, university staff have provided an online experience that most students are satisfied with, as well as most students being satisfied with their institutions’ overall response to the handling of the pandemic. However, universities will need to continue to be mindful of the impact that the pandemic is having on students’ mental health and what this means for the delivery of their support services.

Ben Marks, CEO of YouthSight, said:

How well have universities handled the pandemic?  That is the question that these four YouthSight /HEPI surveys has tried to answer, tracking the views of representative samples of students over four waves of fieldwork, from March 2020 to March 2021.  The results show a mixed picture: on the one hand, student satisfaction with the provision of online learning has marginally improved over the year and university messaging around the impact of Covid has got clearer.  But on the other hand, student mental health has really suffered. For every student who feels their mental health has improved, over four feel it has got worse. It’s long been said by that universities need to put more resource behind their mental health (and other) student services: let’s hope the pandemic can be a catalyst for change.

Notes for Editors

  1. The Higher Education Policy Institute was established in 2002 to help shape the higher education debate with evidence. It is the UK’s only independent think tank devoted to higher education. HEPI is a non-partisan charity funded by higher education institutions and other organisations that wish to see a vibrant policy debate.
  2. Wave 11 of the HEPI / YouthSight Monitor was answered by 1,044 full-time undergraduate students and undertaken between the 11 and 16 March 2021. Weights have been used to ensure the sample is representative by age, gender and university type.
  3. The margin of error is + / – 3% for students. This is calculated at a 95% confidence level.
  4. Respondents received a £1.50 Bonus Bond gift voucher for answering these questions and others on a different topic.
  5. Results may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
  6. The full results are available in a spreadsheet from HEPI.


  1. Most rent refunds have been in purpose built student accommodation (PBSA) consisting of about 52% of student housing. The refund rate of 19% looks a little low but it is unlikely to be more than 25%.

    Allowing students to leave their contracts has probably cost as much as refunds this year and in those cases that help is more effectively targetted on individual cases.

    Occupancy has only dipped by between 5%-2% for the Easter period, so most students in accommodation are staying put, hoping for a fuller third term experience.

    As ever from HEPI, a timely and useful report.

  2. Tania says:

    The gap between the Covid rules on return to campus and the reality is very frustrating.

    How many students are supposed to be back? The 2/3 who are back will comprise those who are allowed back and those who are just adapting the rules to suit their circumstances. They are probably also the ones more likely to socialise outside the rules and therefore cause the virus to spread.

    The 1/3 who are obeying the rules and staying at home are probably the ones who would have adhered to the rules if they had been allowed to return.

    This is a stupid situation. Either the rules should be enforced or they should be changed to reflect the reality. The young are being so good about the restrictions placed on them to protect other members of society, but they are being constantly forgotten.

    This has been a terrible year for many, but first year students have been one of the groups which have lost something they will never have now. The financial loss is the smaller issue – the year has not cost students more than they expected, they have just not got what they thought they were “buying” and most will not end up paying for it anyway as the loans get written off. The loneliness and mental health impact will have a lasting impact. The ones with self catering flats with communal spaces with flatmates have fared better than those in catered halls – at St Andrews all the communal spaces were closed and they were not allowed to socialise in the corridors or anywhere else, so it has been really difficult to make friends. It was a parody of the student experience they all rightly expected.

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