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Experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic – Student Survey November 2020

12 November 2020


93% of students intend to stay on at university, despite Covid-19 challenges


We understand that students this year are facing significant challenges by being at university during a global pandemic. We wanted to find out exactly how students are feeling a couple of months into their first months of the new academic year.


We surveyed 1,000 UK students to see how they have adjusted to university life, and whether they intend to continue their university courses in January 2021.


The survey found that 93% of students intend to remain at university on their current courses for the rest of this academic year, and 85% said it was likely they would stay in their current accommodation to do this. More than four in five are happy they decided to go to university, with 81% agreeing that although it’s not how they expected their first year to be they still value their time there.


72% say they have transitioned well to starting or continuing at university this year, and 63% say their university has done a good job of supporting them during this period. Three quarters also agreed that living in student accommodation away from home and being at university is better than the alternative.


Focusing more closely on the transition period to university, 46% of students said they have found their friends at university as their most helpful source of support, followed by 31% stating their parents, and 31% their university.


52% of students agree they are meeting new people and making new friends, but 29% disagree, which could well be due to the extra social distancing and restrictions COVID-19 has put on students. Some students even said they’d like to receive greater support than they have done so far.


Fortunately, an overwhelmingly large percentage of students are happy with their choice not to defer, with 81% saying they are glad they didn’t defer, and 82% being happy they moved into student accommodation rather than staying at home. 41% said they were driven by a desire to ‘immerse themselves in university life’, 34% to live with people their own age away from home and 27% saying they were motivated by wanting independence from their parents. Almost a quarter of students even said that deferring didn’t even cross their mind and the same amount believe that now is the right time to invest in their education.


The importance of the whole university experience is reflected in students decisions to live away from home, with the majority of students feeling they are benefitting from the experience this year; 92% like the greater independence that comes from living away from home and 64% like living with people their own age. 85% also said it was likely they would stay in their current accommodation in January.


Unite Students CEO, Richard Smith, said:


“In what has been a very difficult year for students, it is reassuring – but not surprising – to see an exceptional sense of resilience come through in these survey results. Despite the pandemic, students continue to see the value in not just the educational aspect of their degrees, but also in the social skills and independence that the wider university experience provides. The majority are committed to continuing this experience, although it may be different and they are adjusting to a new learning experience.


“Likewise, I know how challenging it has been for all of those who work in the sector, throughout the UK, to support students, and keep them safe and secure while still providing a meaningful and enjoyable experience. Given the scale of the challenge and uncertainties we have all faced, I think this is something that they should all be very proud of.


“Doing the right thing for our students and staff has been our priority throughout the pandemic and it is important that we maintain our focus on this throughout the winter and beyond. We are already looking forward to welcoming students back in January as they continue their studies.”


Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:


“It is easy to forget how aspirational people are about their own lives. This important new research reminds us that students are keen to learn, keen to get on with their lives and keen to make the best of the opportunities they have, despite the challenging times in which we live.


“Covid has disrupted students’ lives in unfortunate and regrettable ways but they are acting rationally in wanting to continue with their education. It is always better to learn than to build a blank space on your CV and their current behaviour is helping to set them up for success in the post-pandemic world when it eventually comes.


“We often hear complaints about ‘snowflake students’. Yet far from this caricature, students have typically approached the pandemic in ways that suggest they are resilient, aspirational and very sensible.”


To find out more about the survey or to see the raw data please see our press release.