Students breaking the stereotype

It feels like every day there are student stories in the news at the moment. Students are flouting coronavirus restrictions and holding parties in their flats. Hiding party-goers in their basements, attempting to evade police detection and avoiding hefty fines. Unfortunately, this is an illusion that some people have subscribed to and believed. But from what I can tell, it’s the minority.

Across our university campuses in Nottingham, students are raising funds and collecting food for our city’s residents who are in a less fortunate position, offering a helping hand to their community.

Max Adler, who acts as the charity secretary for the University of Nottingham football team, helped organise an initiative that provided children with free packed lunches over the half-term break, inspired by footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign. After teaming up with St Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, the team helped distribute over 200 free lunches in Lenton, using money from their own pocket. Any leftover food was then donated to food banks to prevent anything from going to waste.

Max said: “While students get looked down on, so do members of sports clubs – they’re often known to be quite loud and noisy. Following the government’s decision not to provide free school meals for school children over the half-term holidays, the University of Nottingham football club wanted to help the community. We understand the difficult times we are living in and we firmly believe that no child should ever have to go hungry.”

Zain Gillani, the football team’s equality officer, also said: “Getting involved in the community and helping out as much as we can has been one of our main priorities every single year. Whenever we see we can help make a change, we go for it.”

Alongside this, the Portland building on the University Park campus has also seen an increase in donations. An initiative was launched at the University of Nottingham to help support local food banks. Partnering with the local food distribution company Foodprint, university students were encouraged to donate food outside the Spar shop in the Portland Building, which would then be distributed to food banks and homeless shelters across the city.

Foodprint itself was a company founded by University of Nottingham students in 2017 to battle the amount of food waste in a society that also tackles hunger. To them, the latter should not coexist with the former. They have worked throughout lockdown, selling surplus food in their Sneinton store to avoid it heading to a landfill.

As well as food donations, students at the University of Nottingham are also encouraged to donate the drinks from their meal deals if they don’t want them, and on Sundays, students can use up the remainder of their balance on their meal cards to spend on non-perishable food especially for the food bank donations. Whilst this operation was halted last semester as a result of cross-contamination fears amid coronavirus, workers at the Spar shop have noticed that food is once again being left for food bank donations so it is believed the initiative will start up again.

While sometimes students might be scapegoated, taking a further look can provide an insight into what students are really doing in lockdown, other than studying.

FP

Student retention and the economic effect

Following a recent report conducted by London Economics for the University and College Union, figures suggest that UK Universities are expecting over 230,000 fewer students in September as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This reduction could potentially decrease the incoming finance of universities by billions, putting an estimated 60,000 jobs at risk, both in the universities themselves and in the surrounding areas. Many universities in the country were struggling financially, even before the pandemic, and as a result, they could face serious long-term financial issues.

The University of Nottingham’s financial position has a strong influence on the economic fortune of surrounding towns, most obviously affecting that of Beeston. In previous years, Beeston has greatly relied upon the University of Nottingham to introduce a large number of visitors and students into the area, and to bring money to local businesses. Most recent figures suggest that over 3000 jobs in the Broxtowe area rely upon the University of Nottingham’s presence, whether they are directly linked to the University or not. Additionally, over 4200 University of Nottingham students and 1620 staff members live in Broxtowe, and therefore frequently provide the area with an economic income. International students to the University of Nottingham contribute £17 million to the Broxtowe economy annually, with the University supporting over 500 local businesses. Without the university or its students, it is clear that there would be detrimental effects to all surrounding economies if there were a strong decline in the number of students.

One of the biggest reasons behind the potential loss in finance is a lack of student retention, and university students opting to either study virtually and study from home, or to defer their place at university for the year. Both will have a negative effect on the local economy as students will fail to invest in the local communities and economies. For students starting university in September, the pandemic is still clearly their priority.

Jessica Croft, 21, from Nottingham, is due to start postgraduate study at the University of Nottingham in September but admits she has reservations: “I do have various concerns about attending University in September. However, I trust that student safety is the priority of the University; I am confident that I will not be put in a position where I am at risk of contracting the virus.

“I know of people who are hoping to start their first year in September, as an undergraduate, and a lot of them are considering deferring for a year. They don’t believe they’ll receive the full student experience during the pandemic and its repercussions. For that reason, I do believe that there will be a decline in the number of students attending University in September.

“I know that if I can work under these circumstances, I will come out of this academic year as a dedicated and adaptable individual – something which is invaluable to potential employers.”

“It will be a challenging year for me as a postgraduate student – particularly in terms of my mental health. However, I am trying to make the best of the situation. I know that if I can work under these circumstances, I will come out of this academic year as a dedicated and adaptable individual – something which is invaluable to potential employers.”

Whilst the University of Nottingham is busy making preparations and safety measures to welcome their students back in the new academic year, it is possible that their ‘blended approach’ could hinder the recovery of the Broxtowe economy. A spokesperson for the University of Nottingham said: “All of us at the University of Nottingham look forward to welcoming all of our students back to campus in September. We are committed to ensuring our students can remain safe and make the very most of the opportunities that studying for a Nottingham degree offers. We know that, in turn, our students will support our University community and neighbours in the city by following all government guidelines and local safety measures. Life at university, as much as everywhere else around the globe, will feel different for a while, however, our students’ time at Nottingham will be enriching and exciting, nonetheless. We have successfully welcomed more than 5,000 students back to our campus in Ningbo, China, and we are using that experience to inform how we approach things in the UK.

“We will use a blended approach to deliver teaching, using a combination of digital and in-person sessions to ensure students have every opportunity to engage with our world-leading academics. Social distancing measures will be in place across our indoor and outdoor spaces including dedicated entrances and exits, one-way and queuing systems, and distance markers that have become a familiar feature in other areas of national life.”

They continued: “We are working closely with the city and county councils, and landlords’ associations, to help bring students back to the city safely and efficiently. Lakeside Arts, our gallery and arts centre, is expected to resume its programme in the autumn, and will also put on its events and cultural activities in new spaces such as live-streaming performances on the Portland screen at the Students’ Union. The University and the Students’ Union is working with societies and student groups to develop safe and exciting opportunities to experience what our city and region have to offer.”

Regardless of whether students choose to return to the University of Nottingham this September, the economic impact on Broxtowe is almost inevitable and it is important we work together to mitigate the effects of this to the best of our ability.

FP