How lockdown has seen Preston city centre lose bustling student heart as well as the economic benefits
Preston's university UCLan plays an important role in the city and region's economy. But the pandemic has meant most of its teaching has moved online. Fiona Finch reports on the impact of the lockdown on students.
It’s a University Challenge of a different sort for UCLan as it seeks to carry on providing education to its students online in the latest lockdown.
Meanwhile for UCLan Student Union President Zuleikha Chikh the pandemic is raising numerous issues from student hardship to the need for rent rebates and the gaps in student learning.
The lockdown has prevented many students from continuing their part-time jobs which provide essential income.
The Students Union has lobbied local MP Mark Hendrick and wants more Government support for students.
Zuleikha said: “Many students have lost part-time jobs or have been furloughed, which has had a major impact on how students can fully support themselves. We cannot expect students to focus on their academic studies when they are constantly choosing between heating and eating.
The union’s recent Student Hardship Survey was completed by more than 1,000 students and some 835 (77 per cent) said the challenge of managing their finances during the pandemic had affected their mental health and wellbeing.
Zuleikha said:“The Students’ Union has heard from many students who have experienced a
loss of income, not receiving rent rebates from their private landlords and lack the digital equipment to get on with their education. The union has been in regular communication with the university to ensure the Students
COVID-19 Hardship Fund reaches the students that need the support the most.”
She continued: “Most concerning for UCLan Students’ Union is some social media polling that indicate students are worried about how much they are learning. Our polling of 235 students indicated that 20% thought that their teaching and learning this year had met their expectations. Statistics like this have caused students to question why they are continuing to pay full student fees for facilities they are not able to fully access.
“The third lockdown has prevented face-to-face teaching from continuing on practical based courses (non-health care related) and has left students without access to specialist equipment ... There has been a gap in students’ learning which we cannot shy away from.”
She added: “We are working well with University staff and continue to challenge them to
support students as much as possible.”
Only those on health education courses have been attending campus classes since the start of the new term in January.
Vice Chancellor Graham Baldwin said: “The safety and wellbeing of students and staff at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), combined with delivering a quality learning experience, remain our priority as we continue to cope with the national crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The University says it has so far invested over £1.2 million to provide a Covid-secure campus with hundreds of laptop computers and thousands of face-coverings and food parcels provided to students. Support from UCLan’s counselling, mental health and wellbeing team has also been extended.
But while work continues on the re-development of the Adelphi quarter, and building workers rather than students comprise the main customers at local sandwich shops and food outlets, students have been increasingly vocal about the problems they are facing.
The Vice-Chancellor said: “Undoubtedly there are fewer students in the city and this position is set to continue in the short term. While I’m sure that some local businesses have seen a downturn in student trade the medium to long term future is a lot brighter.
“With our Masterplan development in the city, UCLan is fully committed to its civic role in supporting the long-term future of the Preston economy.”
He said the university is offering some rent rebate to the 1700 students in its halls of residence and the Student Hardship Fund had helped students facing financial difficulties during the pandemic.
He added: “In terms of accommodation, we fully understand the disruption which the latest national lockdown has created and recently announced a rent rebate equivalent to seven weeks for all students with a University halls contract who have not made use of their accommodation since the commencement of the recent national lockdown.
“As a goodwill gesture we have also offered a free four-week extension to all students with a University accommodation contract, regardless of whether they qualify for the rebate or not. This would extend current tenancy contracts to 1 August 2021 enabling students to complete extended work placement options or take up possible part-time work opportunities.”
IQ Kopa, the largest private halls in Preston, has also pledged a six week rebate for UCLan students.
The university’s extended online timetable has seen classes put on in the evenings and at weekends.
Some 50 per cent of UCLan students live at home, commuting into campus.
For our companion report on the impact of the exodus of students from the city centre on local businesses see here** The Lancashire Post is more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism. For unlimited access to Lancashire news and information online, you can subscribe here