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Learning in Lockdown

Young Talent Amie Kirby shares her experiences of being a student during Covid-19.
Last July, I ‘graduated’ from my Undergraduate course– though my friends and I joke that we’re likely to have our Master’s graduation ceremony before our Undergraduate one.

To call this bizarre is an understatement – it has been a surreal, turbulent adjustment. The effects of Covid-19 on student life have been, as the Sutton Trust’s latest report says, profound.

Currently, I’m living with my boyfriend in our poky Salford flat, studying for a Master’s in Art Gallery & Museum Studies at the University of Manchester. For me, museums are spaces of learning and cultural exchange, and I'm hoping to have a career in them, or even to study at PhD level.

Money, money, money

Like many of my friends, I had considered deferring my MA. Undertaking such an intense course during a pandemic, whilst having to study remotely with no face-to-face support was daunting.

However, I'm a recipient of the Manchester Master’s Bursary – which awards 75 students each year with £4,000 to supplement their studies. This award has been instrumental in allowing me to study and pay rent for a space where I can work uninterrupted (sorry Mum!) I realise that not everybody is this lucky.

Unfortunately, the bursary is only awarded for the immediate academic year – meaning if I’d deferred, there’s no guarantee I’d have gotten the bursary next year.

My decision truly felt like it was now or never. Coming from a working class background, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to study with such vital financial support.

This is common: according to the Sutton Trust, over half of students have recently faced financial hardship.

Zoom from your room

Like many students, I’ve struggled to maintain the motivation to study online. Having to stay at your desk for multiple hours staring at electronics can be mentally tiring. There have been seminars where I’ve had to go cam-off, in pyjamas, feeling exhausted. From live lectures to awkward breakout rooms, it’s no surprise that a quarter of students surveyed report feeling “Zoom fatigue”.

As a Disabled student living with Type 1 Diabetes and Anxiety, I've had to adapt various parts of my life to this new unconventional routine. My Diabetes is best regulated with steady meal times so I've have had to master sneakily eating a noodle pot whilst on a two-hour Zoom call!

While I've found myself fatigued by online study, many of my Disabled friends are used to these frustrations. They already had to choose between attending lectures on campus or staying home to rest during flare-ups, then catching-up remotely. Issues I explored further in an online exhibition I curated.

For me, a profound consequence of the pandemic is the rapid availability of online resources – something that many Disabled communities have requested for a long time.

Student life

As a Student Representative for my course, I've had a closer appreciation for the hard work staff and lecturers have poured into our learning, to make this as easy a transition as possible. But one of the biggest issues facing students studying remotely is that of loneliness.

Many of my course mates wanted the opportunity to mingle outside of seminars - so student reps coordinated informal, online events to break the ice, like a Christmas virtual escape room. As an MA is so intensive it’s nice to have opportunities to bond outside of the usual essay chat. Whilst 87% of students have reported barriers to extra-curricular participation, I’ve managed to find a large group of friendly faces on my course. Having never met in person, I’m incredibly lucky that these wonderful people feel like genuine friends.

You can find Amie on Twitter at @_amiekirby