Isolating in dorm rooms, no socializing, and online classes. The British university students living through the pandemic

By now, British students should have been enjoying their first weeks of university and all the freedom and chaos the experience typically brings. Instead, they have been battling a far different reality.



a man standing next to a bicycle: Tara Kelly, 20, is in her final year at the University of Oxford, but says the city is far different from the Oxford she left last year.


© Tara Kelly
Tara Kelly, 20, is in her final year at the University of Oxford, but says the city is far different from the Oxford she left last year.

With coronavirus cases rising, particularly in northern parts of England, many have been forced to self-isolate in student halls, unable to leave even to go food shopping. Under government guidance, updated at the end of last month, students in areas with additional restrictions aren’t even allowed to return to their family homes, in case that increases the risk of the COVID-19 infection spreading.

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The picture became bleaker on Monday, as U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a three-tier system with a number of northern towns and cities facing tougher measures. However, Johnson said that universities, along with schools and retail premises, would remain open in all tiers of restrictions.

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Universities may be open in the official sense but students are getting anything but a typical experience. Manchester’s two main universities — Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Manchester — moved all teaching online earlier this month, with the exception of clinical, medical and laboratory-based teaching. Face-to-face teaching has also been suspended at the University of Sheffield due to surging COVID-19 infections.

But it isn’t just the universities in badly-affected northern cities, other institutions further south like the University of Oxford have also moved some lectures online.

First-year students aren’t alone in having to adapt to the new normal, with students in all years of their degrees finding they have returned to live and study in cities that have changed almost beyond recognition.

Liam Keown*, 19, a first-year student at the University of Manchester, was forced to self-isolate in his accommodation for a 10-day period after testing positive for COVID-19.



a man smiling for the camera: University of Manchester student Liam Keown was unable to leave his flat even for food.


© Liam Keown
University of Manchester student Liam Keown was unable to leave his flat even for food.

“For the last few years I have been working hours on end doing schoolwork and revising in order to get into the university I wanted to go to and to make the next step in my life; earning the independence that I’ve craved for so long.

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“However, since arriving at university this has been far from the case.

“Even before my isolation started, the opportunities to leave my accommodation were scarce as my lectures and tutorials had all been moved online and I was told that many sports club trials had been postponed. Immediately, without being in actual isolation, I felt confined to my room and kitchen, besides occasional shopping trips and gym sessions.

“If I hadn’t got on well with my new flatmates from the start, I would have