Circle Insights

COVID, campus and communication – student survey reveals concerns over universities’ handling of pandemic

Marcus Le Brocq

Managing the Covid pandemic and its potential spread through university freshers’ week was a difficult challenge for universities. Perhaps most prominently, Glasgow University was forced into an early lockdown in its halls of residence as positive tests for Covid spiked shortly after the new intake of students arrived in the city. This presented a significant challenge to the university in communicating with its students and managing the situation.

CACI recently conducted a survey of 300 students around returning to university, their studying and their overall student lifestyle in the face of Covid. Unsurprisingly, 95% of students expressed concern about the impact of Covid upon their lifestyle. This isn’t a concern restricted to students, either, with lockdown rules and government guidance being enforced to try and restrict the spread of the virus across the whole of society.

When it comes to the student experience, 59% of students are concerned about socialising and 55% are concerned about returning to a physical location in order to continue their studies.

View the Survey Here

The challenge for universities is in providing a seamless student experience that can incorporate the learning and socialising outcomes that most expect from attending university. There is, after all, a reason why these students have chosen to attend university rather than complete an online course.

71% of students view the university campus as integral to their student experience, yet 45% believe that it is unlikely that they will return to study on campus again. There is an element of managing a transition into the unknown for universities here.

Universities have been carefully implementing Covid secure environments to smooth the passage of safe return for students. One-way systems, mandatory face coverings in buildings and socially distanced lecture halls and libraries are all designed to protect students, staff and the wider society in which the university is situated.

Whilst such measures undoubtedly impact on the anticipated student experience, they do help universities to manage student concerns. But what of those students forced into self-isolation by an escalating situation around them?

Whilst 59% of students are concerned about socialising, 41% are not. This inherent contradiction is impossible for universities to manage. What universities can – and have – managed is the fear of the 55% who are concerned about returning to a physical location.

Communication plays a vital role in this. Clear guidance has been given by universities to their students about acceptable behaviour during Covid, with household bubbles and a restriction on mass gatherings put in place. Beyond that, universities are reliant upon the social conscience of their student population to abide by the measures put in place.

The measures put in place by universities show that they can manage the contradiction between their students viewing campus as integral, yet also a cause for concern. Effectively demonstrating this to their students, and communicating clear policy and guidelines, can help to assuage anxieties in the student population about returning to campus.

Technology can play a fundamental role in the new student experience, too. Lectures and seminars are increasingly, although not exclusively, moving to online platforms. With Covid guidelines an evolving and ongoing concern, universities need to be able to respond to the challenges and communicate their policies to their students quickly.

Student information management systems can help universities to meet these changing demands. Via a system such as OSIRIS, for example, students can download a white labelled university app, through which the university can send instant communications, present timetables and course options, as well as putting students in touch with their tutors.

Centrally managing the ongoing response to Covid will help universities to stay on top of the problem, implement effective responses and keep their students informed, safe and up to date.

For more information on OSIRIS, please click here.

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Marcus Le Brocq