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Photography Tim Gouw, via Unsplash

‘Isolated and unsupported’ students tell us why they’re close to quitting

A new survey has revealed that 40 per cent of students have considered dropping out of higher education since the pandemic began

For most university students, freshers week and the years that follow promise to be the best years of your life. Think: awkward encounters with strangers over drinking games – who in turn become your best friends – signing up to every society and going to absolutely none, and falling asleep in lecture halls. But for the Class of 2020 and its cursed twin 2021, the university experience gifted nothing of the sort. 

 According to a new survey shared with The Independent, around 40 per cent of UK students have considered dropping out of university, while 80 per cent of students questioned suggested that the pandemic had impacted their education in a negative way. 

Instead of rowdy halls brimming with friends, students have been forced to spend their studies in quarantine, and for most, that meant back home in isolation with their families instead of on campus. Devastating the student experience, the survey reveals a catastrophic decline in student satisfaction.

The findings, conducted by student support service Studiosity and Red Brick Research, suggest that students have become overstretched due to the absence of face-to-face tutorials – and the subsequent stress of online learning – the pressure of handing in assignments, and the management of their finances, all while navigating the day-to-day monotony of indoor isolation.

With enrollment rates already plummeting, the alarming statistics expose a rising fear for student welfare, and offer further proof that both the education system and government’s responses to the pandemic are exacerbating anxieties, not taking into account vital issues such as digital poverty, accessibility, and – for international students – time zones. 

 The situation isn’t much better outside of the UK either. For instance in Japan, it’s customary for universities to permit temporary leave for students facing financial difficulties. But experts are now considering how the pandemic-linked dropout trend has highlighted the long-term consequences for higher education in Japan. There is an urgent need to revamp the system that calls for more flexibility in both academics and management,” shares Professor Kaori Suetomi, an expert on education policy at Nihon University, Tokyo. 

 To find out why students are struggling, and what resources are – or aren’t – available to them, Dazed caught up with undergraduates around the world to discuss how the pandemic has monopolised their university experience and increased their urge to drop out.


“The pandemic has provided positives I would never have considered possible. I can roll out of bed three minutes before a class starts; some teachers record and post their lectures, giving me the ability to pause and rewatch material until I am able to grasp the concept, making me feel more confident with my studies. However, COVID has made education both easier and more complicated. I'm constantly told by one of my professors (who I see four times a week) that it is our responsibility to have a good (internet) connection – I study at home with broken laptops and terrible WiFi, so I often feel like if I’m disrupting the class more than I’m able to participate in it. Plus, the constant reinforcement that my living situation isn’t suitable for learning doesn’t encourage me to continue learning.

Support has been close to nonexistent. There are a few professors that go out of their way to check in on students, and these teachers are the ones whose classes I perform the best in. Socially there is little to no support – you’re lucky if your class makes a group chat or a classmate reaches out. As a transfer student, I was looking for my last years of university to be the ones that solidified my trade, friends, and goals. Now I’m alone and there is not much to keep me here. This is my second semester back, so two semesters is all it took (to make me feel this way).

The balance between classes and workload is the most challenging part. It depends on the class structure and the teacher of course, but since videos are accessible and easier for everyone, teachers pile on assignments and those can add up quickly if you’re taking a 15-credit course load. I believe teachers should communicate openly with their students outside of class. An email checking in is more than enough for me to know what is being expected of me, and it (would be really helpful given everything is) ill-defined and each teacher sets up their class differently. Everyone thinks they’re making things easier, but it’s getting more and more complicated.”


“In my first academic year, I’ve had three months in halls – not even going to the campus – and four months in lockdown at home. Each day, I get out of bed, move two metres to my desk and sit down for my first lecture of the day. The last few weeks I’ve integrated the garden into my routine, as I’ve been able to have a few mates over for beers – at least that is sort of what I’d be doing at uni anyway although, I’ve been friends with these guys for 12 years, so I’m not expanding my horizons making new friends).

Financially I have had some money back because I’ve not been physically at the university. Mentally, support is there but we have to reach out to student services if we want it. In fact, it was my dad who rang up the university when I was struggling at the beginning, which led to the support phone call I had in the first week of uni. So I guess it was more my dad's concern than the university's. Academically, there has been very limited support. It depends on your lecturer – some of them extend the deadlines and open up more seminars to discuss work, but nine times out of ten, the lecturers aren’t willing to put in extra time, and in some cases haven’t responded to emails I’ve sent with questions. 

We’ve had group work where I’ve been working with people I’ve never met before. In one project, I was working with a girl who moved home to China and a guy who was in Singapore. We were all on different time zones, so scheduling time to discuss work was virtually impossible. I don’t actually feel like a student – I’m basically teaching myself, which feels like I’m doing an open university course rather than getting the uni experience that my older siblings had. Having said that, the FOMO is definitely real – another aspect of life this year that has been hard. It’s supposed to be “one of the best years of my life” which I guess I’ll never get back.”


“As a fine art student, the pandemic has greatly affected (both) my university work and personal practice. I'm very grateful and lucky that, as part of my course, I have my own personal studio on the university grounds. However, due to the national lockdown restrictions, my access to this studio was limited, and I found it hard to stay focused on my work. As my work ethic started to fizzle out, I became less ambitious in my practice and stayed stagnant for quite some time. Adjusting to online teaching was difficult at first, but I think that my course leaders tried as hard as they could to keep me engaged – however, I do still struggle to focus when speaking to somebody through a screen.

During the first national lockdown, I was really struggling to adjust to the new, virtual ways of teaching, and I found myself debating dropping out almost daily. The first few weeks were definitely the hardest, with a complete change in the way I had to work. However, being allowed to go into the university grounds during the second lockdown made me feel much more relaxed and prepared for the inevitable end of my degree. 

I think it is important that universities stay connected with their students. The pandemic has had a monumental effect on most students' mental health, and I think it's important that universities make it clear to their students how they can get the help that they need. I also think that different resources such as grants and funding should be made clearer to students to ensure that they are consuming all of the resources that are available to them.”


“I’ve found that my focus a lot of the time has been poorly affected, especially when all businesses in New York – like cafes, (where I might go to work) – were shut down for a while. It is hard to separate your living space from your study space. I’ve also received little to no support from my university. In the beginning, they sent out a small relief fund which covered my books for the semester, but in the fall semester, my classes were put on hold and my full scholarship was denied. The scholarship I have is processed by me being able to take 15 credits a semester with no breaks in between. In January 2020, I took some winter courses to stay on track, but I had to withdraw due to getting a terrible flu, potentially COVID that sent me to the ER. My school put a hold on my account and denied my scholarship because of this, and I am currently still trying to appeal the denial as my diploma is on hold. 

I have come so close to dropping out several times during this pandemic. I was taking six demanding courses for my major and my job had just reopened, and I was frustrated with the amount of work I was putting in and the lack of support I was receiving. Many of my friends took semesters off as they felt they didn't have the mental capacity to finish their degree from home or during this time in general. The most difficult part about being a student during the pandemic is that because you are home, professors assume that you are not busy and therefore give out more work and assignments per week. I thought something was wrong that I had these focusing issues, but I always have to remind myself we are living through this time that no one has lived through before. Although I am a student, for most of my college years I have worked full time and I am also a freelance multimedia artist, and the workload has been very challenging to balance, as well as keeping up with the daily changes and mental exhaustion that COVID-19 has brought us. Universities not being understanding or flexible with many things I feel will drive students away instead of wanting them to finish and continue their education.”

*Names have been changed