What might we expect?
Students across the UK are looking forward to the 2021/22 academic year—maybe like no one has looked forward to the start of a university year before. The academic year just coming to an end 2020/21 has been unique. Many, if not most, students have spent less time in lectures and tutorials on campus than ever before. There has been little, or no, social life. The student union has been a drab (or not so drab) abandoned building at every university across the UK, all 4 of the nations, for most of the year.
Online learning, for many students, has proved to be OK. Not wonderful, not a complete disaster—but OK. However, university education in the UK has always been about more than the academic learning experience. For lots of youngsters, going to university is the first freedom from the restrictions of home life. They are adults, legally and in reality. They are making their own decisions with little reference to anyone else’s wishes.
The Covid19 restrictions affecting the last academic year massively altered the university experience for many students. They spent time either locked down in their uni accommodation or, almost worse, at home with their families. They may love their family but, having tasted freedom, being forced back into a home-life regime is not ideal for many.
Students join too many clubs and societies in freshers’ week. For the rest of their time at Uni, they play an active part in just a few of those they joined. Pretty much all of the groups have been largely inactive for the last 12 months. Some, the more proactive, have made significant efforts to keep in touch with members—maintaining contact, providing support where they can. But there has been little or no face-to-face contact, no events, no tours, no matches intra- or inter- uni, no celebrations, little camaraderie.
What a different year 2020/21 has been for most universities and their students.
The university year or semester starting in the autumn of 2021 will, with luck—and no new variants—prove to be very different. There are two groups of people who will be going to university in September—those who have had an interrupted university experience this year and the 2021/22 freshers.
Returning uni students
Oh boy! It is not unreasonable to expect something ‘special’ when these students hit the halls again. There will be interrupted friendships to resume, parties to celebrate being back and free again. The Chess club has been playing online for the last 12 months. But most of the other clubs and societies will be getting together for the first time in a while and might look to make the most of it.
There will be changes—things will be different from the last ‘normal’ year of university life. There will, almost certainly, still be pandemic related restrictions in place come September. Yet, it is likely, these will not be bad enough to interrupt most activities. Maybe the changes and restrictions will slow everyone down a little, but probably not much!
On the other hand, Freshers will not know what to expect. Starting your university life was always a big step into the unknown. But the first new term after the pandemic (assuming the best) is especially unknown. It is unlikely that the universities themselves know how it will all pan out yet. Clubs and societies will be playing it by ear. The freshers have no chance of knowing how their first term of university might look. Talking to siblings and friends who have been to uni won’t help much because many things might have changed since their time.
The freshers have had a rough last year of school/college, or possibly a rougher gap year. Their plans and expectations for the year leading up to starting a course at university have been blown out of the water by the coronavirus. The growing up that would have happened in the last year before further education changed dramatically. Many might have been forced to grow up much more rapidly and seriously than otherwise
Uni social life
The following ignores the academic side of uni and focuses on the social and extracurricular activities.
Student halls, clubs, societies, sports teams and any other uni based grouping will be looking to help their members to get (back) into the swing of things quickly and safely. We expect orders for uni hoodies and t-shirts to be slightly increased from the last normal pre-Covid19 year (2019) as group identity will be important. Track and trace may be a feature of events for some considerable time. So, students might spread themselves a little thinner and focus on participating in fewer groupings minimising risk.
Not all, but most students, are young adults. They are going to be looking to the first term or semester to let off some of the steam which they have been forced to bottle for the last 15 months. Social life and extracurricular activities are likely to be busy, busier than normal as people get up and running again with meeting old friends and making new.
Sports activities between universities might be delayed but will probably start in earnest in early 2022. Trips and expeditions may follow a similar pattern. As a result, we expect that orders for uni clothing will be on the increase from September onwards.