The Troubling Experiences of First-Year Students in 2021

Without in-person orientation programmes and on-campus lectures to aid first-year university entrants in their transition out of high school, some students have found it increasingly difficult to make new friends, remain academically motivated, and completely immerse themselves in the university lifestyle in 2021; whilst those who have had on-campus learning have complained of many other issues, including a lack of support from their institutions.

 

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With tertiary institutions being almost exclusively online since March of 2020, the first-year students of 2021 have had an unusual start to their university experience. Speaking to Capetonian university-goers, it is clear that their introduction to university has been one of great struggle.

Megan Sorour, a UCT student studying Mechatronic Engineering, states that she does not cope well with online learning saying:

I really struggle with motivation, and I often feel isolated and like I’m doing everything alone. Going on campus really is the highlight of my week.

Despite not having any in-person lectures, Megan is able to have on-campus interactions 2-3 times a week for tutorials and labs for Physics and Electrical Engineering.  

However, because of the general unfamiliarity with tutors, other students, and lab equipment due to online learning, she has found that tutorial interactions have become relatively awkward, with tutorial rooms often remaining quite silent. Furthermore, she notes that navigating some of the lab equipment has also become a point of difficulty due to their lack of prior experience with the tools.

She does reveal an attempt by her department to support its students, noting that an email circulated to students taking Math courses, offering psychological support. However, she says that despite the over 300 responses to the email, only 40 spots were available to be filled.

Another first-year student studying a BA in Fine Arts at The Michaelis School of Fine Art at UCT’s Hiddingh Campus, has had a slightly varied experience. Due to the nature of her degree, she is afforded the ability to engage in on-campus learning, noting that “being able to attend studio work almost daily in-person has been amazing".

“The lecturers, for the most part, in the beginning of the semester, tried their best to accommodate us and make our transition into this new institution pretty smooth”, she says. However, despite this more pleasant introduction, the student has experienced other troubling issues in her first-year.

With her classes being on Hiddingh Campus, she has come to notice how unsafe the area has become for women. She accounts that a group of international male students from the English department have been harassing her and her friends regularly on campus and says that, "this doesn’t seem to be a priority for those in charge of the campus, the safety of women that is.” 

She believes that the inability for the boys’ lecturer to address this issue as she excuses it to cultural differences, will only prove to be more harmful in future.

Furthermore, she explains that there is a lack of efficient communication from the university with regards to financial aid, stating as of the 11th of June, “I didn’t even know that I was NSFAS funded until a couple of weeks ago, because of terrible communication from the financial aid office.”

Finally, another student studying a BA in Politics, Anthropology and Film and Media also acknowledges the difficulty of her first year at university. Like many other students, none of her subjects involve any sort of in-person engagement. She, however, believes that for the courses that she takes, “having a video lecture cannot do the content justice”. 

She feels that it would make all the difference if she was able to have in-person tutorial interactions, or to be able to spark up ongoing conversations with lectures about the content that she feels so passionately about.

The only times that she goes on campus are for her own personal reasons; like going to the library to do some work, or walking around campus and meeting new people. She says:

I definitely like going on campus because it gives me a sense of motivation and it’s definitely nice to...feel like you’re a part of a university community.

She also feels that a majority of her lecturers and tutors have been quite understanding, but she acknowledges that other students have not felt that they have received that same level of support. 

These are just a few of the stories that reveal the problems that first-year students have faced during the pandemic.

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