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Retaining students and learning in lockdown: a student perspective

Susan Roberts

Susan Roberts

Nov 18, 2020

With record numbers of students starting courses at UK universities this autumn, Vice Chancellors are reportedly concerned that many may not last the year, with specific worries related to students adapting to independent online learning, according to a recent article in the Guardian. What's the student perspective? We asked Student Union president at UK partner university Plymouth MarJon, Lauren Edwards, to share her thoughts on this and her own experience of studying for and completing her dissertation online during lockdown.

A recent Guardian article predicts the 'highest number of student dropouts' this academic year. What are your thoughts on this generally, and for Plymouth MarJon specifically?

The difficulty is when it comes to articles like that, they're often based on the top 20, which isn't fair when it comes to MarJon, specifically because the way we react with our students and the relationship that we have here, those that drop out, do it because they want to go back home and that's completely understandable, but it's different here because there are so few of us, once you drop out, you don't feel part of the family anymore. And actually, when you join and you feel part of it, you don't want to leave.

So it's difficult when it comes to articles like that because that's not relevant to us, that's a huge generalisation and it's not just us in the sector that have that approach to the way our students feel. So it is a bit disheartening to see things like that.

We had a 9% increase in applications this year. I think we had 200 more postgraduate applications, we were massively up on last year on our applications, and it is word of mouth, it is going back home and seeing people you know, saying 'you know what, MarJon's amazing, I feel so supported, the staff are great, the SU are great'...it is word of mouth - I live six hours away and I've got friends from home that have come to MarJon because of the way I've spoken about it. So it's not just MarJon, it is all the other small and specialists, but it's disheartening to see articles like that...well, actually, it's not really relevant to us a lot of the time because of the way we are.

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The article states that "many will struggle to adapt to independent university study, especially as many classes will be online. They may be “digital natives”, but they are not used to online learning." What has been your experience of this statement amongst Plymouth MarJon students? Has this changed from when you were a first year?

I finished my degree with online learning, so I had to write my dissertation without being able to come in and use the library, which I relied on. But I think here, especially, because we have so much open space, we can still do some of our lectures face to face, and pre-lockdown, I think the university tried really hard to make sure everyone gets at least one in- person lecture so that they know what it's like and they can have that support and they know what to expect, and there have been hundreds of videos going out, saying this is a support network, this is who you need to go to if you've got anything, if you're struggling.

We've got a massive increase in the number of laptops that the uni have bought this year to lend out to people who need the technology, because we have a lot of mature students here, and a lot aren't that tech savvy, which is just the way it is. But we're definitely putting the effort in to try and make sure that, as much as it is difficult, they're not alone.

Like I said, the MarJon family, they all support each other. I wrote a dissertation by myself online, having never written over 5,000 words before, but because you have your cohort and you're all in the same boat, you will have a mini family, you do get through it quite easily, whereas if I was in a lecture hall with 300 other people, I wouldn't know any of them. And that's the joy of MarJon!

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A big thank you to Lauren for sharing her thoughts with us.

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