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Education / Uncertainty continues as local university students prepare for new academic year

AS LOCKDOWN continues almost unchanged for Scotland, a sense of uncertainty is felt amongst Shetland’s university students and their future on the mainland, writes Iona Nicol.

Twenty two year old Damian Ryder has just finished his college exams and is eagerly awaiting his results. He is supposed to be entering the first year of a psychology with sociology degree at Edinburgh Napier University.

Damian Ryder: 'stopping the use of single-use plastic will not save the world'. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News
Damian Ryder. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

He said: “I’m quite concerned because a big part of going to university is the experience and the life lessons gained from that. I do worry I’ll miss out on some elements of that independence.

“If it came down to having to study from home in Shetland, I’d probably try and defer my studies by a year.”

As of now, most Scottish universities have announced that they are planning to take a blended teaching approach which includes a mixture of online and on campus classes, with other universities, including Robert Gordon University and Aberdeen University, announcing a change to their start dates.

For first-year students this means moving into halls of residence, something that has raised concerns about the spreading of the virus.

“I have to admit, there is an element of fear over the close proximity to other people if there were to be a second wave,” Damien added.

While a big part of being at university is the experience from going to freshers’, clubs, societies and generally being able to mingle with your classmates, for students who are progressing into their dissertation years, concerns lie with teaching.

Josh Smith, 20, is about to enter his third year of a psychology degree at Edinburgh Napier University.

Josh Smith. Photo: Chris Coles

“The prospect of online classes doesn’t bother me, as long as I’m able to access them consistently and there aren’t too many technical issues,” he said.

“I am slightly concerned that it might be harder to interact with lecturers, especially around times where everyone is likely to be doing so. Where everyone could speak to the lecturer for a few minutes after class, I suppose there might now have to be various strings of emails back and forth.”

Going into first year is exciting and is often the first time a young person will experience independence. When you have already adjusted to that way of life, the prospect of not being able to return to that can be distressing.

Josh said: “Not seeing my friends is definitely going to be hard, and I imagine it’ll make things feel more difficult.

“It’s important to feel like you’re not just constantly faced with course work, but with the lack of socialisation in the current situation, that is bound to make the year harder.”

Many students rely on jobs to get them through the academic year. However, as coronavirus has forced Scotland to lockdown, many jobs have disappeared and the number of people reportedly claiming unemployment benefit in Scotland has increased by around 66 per cent.

Josh said: “That is probably the most concerning thing, to be honest. I have not been able to work over the summer like I usually do.

“I do think as time goes on there will be more jobs that come back on the market, although, I think that a lot of typical student jobs (retail, bar work etc.) will be amongst the last to do so.”