LOCAL students are facing a mental health crisis as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, a students union officer has warned.
Elena Bryne (23) from Strabane is a languages student at Queen’s University, Belfast and she believes that the resultant pressures facing her contemporaries, inclusive of fees, accommodation costs and the growing demands of online studying are taking a severe toll and are having a hugely detrimental impact on mental health.
In a recent election for Queen’s Student Union, Elena Byrne was elected to the position of Postgraduate Officer. She says she has seen first hand the impact the pandemic has had on young students.
This time last year, major restrictions were put in place in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19 in our communities, and students were sent home from universities and colleges. Since then, majority of third level students have had their courses moved online and have not returned to their college campuses, resulting in the entire traditional student experience being changed.
Elena explained, “The mental health crisis amongst students has unfortunately soared as a direct result of all that is happening, especially in relation to the financial and academic implications.
“A lack of community and the constant online classes as well as screen-time burnout are real difficulties that students are facing, as are connection issues and distance learning, which means students do not have the same access to the library.
“The pandemic has disproportionately affected the entire student body’s experience of university yet time and time again students are being left out of decision-making in relation to the issues that they face.
“This has raised so many still-unresolved issues, such as how many students are stuck paying for accommodation they are not using; they were promised a better experience on-campus but are now left in contracts that they cannot get out of.
“These students are juggling the demands of online university from home and paying for rooms that they don’t even use, which is totally unfair…” said Elena.
Elena says the financial situation for students is causing major concerns as many are still expected to pay the same tuition fees as in previous years despite the introduction of remote learning. The Strabane woman believes this move is ‘absolutely ludicrous’ and more financial support for students should be made available.
Elena continued, “Students are not benefiting from the same university experience now that everything is online and whilst this in the interest of public health and safety, not having the on-campus experience yet paying the same fees as previous years is absolutely ludicrous.
“There is a fantastic inter-institution student movement called Students Deserve Better that has campaigned tirelessly for the welfare of students during this pandemic and has recently successfully secured the Covid disruption payment.
“However, the Executive has neglected part-time and international students by excluding them from the payment which we are now fighting to reverse.
“One of the major issues faced by postgraduate students is the lack of adequate funding available to them to support them in their studies.
“At present, the current postgraduate tuition fee loan in NI is £5,500 which is significantly less than postgraduate course tuition fees which stand at at least £6,000.”
Elena believes it would be ‘extremely beneficial’ for the universities to allow extra leniency on a case-by-case basis so that students do not find themselves struggling on several fronts.
She said extended deadlines should be implemented and discussions must be entered into with landlords to allow students to leave contracts that they cannot afford. Most importantly, she added, more financial support must be made available to all.
“No student can be left behind in this,” Elena affirmed.
“I think it is so important to make sure that students and student leaders are constantly involved in discussions and decision-making in relation to the student experience so that our views are best represented and resolved.
“No one student is the same and that is why it is important to ensure that as many views as possible are presented to the university and the government so that adequate decisions are made in the best interest of students,” said Elena.