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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Life at the University of Bradford as an international postgraduate student

For this international student, life in Bradford was not as expected with campus closed and shops shut for the first part of his degree.

The global coronavirus pandemic has affected every level of education in the UK, from children in nurseries to postgraduate students. Throughout most of 2020 and into 2021, school and university buildings were shut down and teaching shifted online via platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Online learning has been met with various opinions. For some, it has meant that higher education has become more accessible, at least for the time being, with the ability to learn from their own home instead of dealing with daily accessibility issues such as commuting. However, statistics from the Student Academic Experience Survey (SAES) from the Higher Education Policy Institute and Advance HE shows that only 12% of university students prefer an online-only approach and 31% prefer a “blended” approach of both in-person and online learning.

Research from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that only 44% of undergraduate students were satisfied with their academic experience since learning digitally in the pandemic. Out of the students who are not enjoying their experience at university, the main reasons were because of limited opportunities for social or recreational activity, limited opportunities to meet other students, and limited access to sports and fitness facilities.

Mr Jolil left Bangladesh to study for a postgraduate degree in logistics, data analysis, and supply chain management.

For international students such as Md Abdul Jolil, studying in England under strict Covid-19 guidelines has been something that he could never have imagined, with lessons taught online and no freshers events or union activities to look forward to.

The University of Bradford will reintroduce face-to-face teaching offering the “full campus experience” from September with indoor and outdoor sports returning, study areas opening, full use of the library and an expanded range of activities going on. Instead of arriving to this, Mr Jolil was met with strict Covid-19 testing and isolation guidelines, restrictions on meeting other people, as well as non-essential shops and leisure activities being shut for the first term of his master’s degree.

Mr Jolil left Bangladesh to study at the University of Bradford in February 2021 to pursue a postgraduate degree in logistics, data analytics, and supply chain management. He said: “It has been around seven months since I arrived in the UK to pursue my degree at the University of Bradford.

“When I first arrived, it was the middle of February, the time was very different from what it was now. Covid-19 restrictions were everywhere, the university campus was shut down, you weren’t allowed to meet in people’s houses, only certain shops were open, it was very weird.

“My studies began on 25 January and were entirely online. The chance of on-campus classes was advertised to me previously which is what led me to race to England from Bangladesh as soon as it was possible.”

Mr Jolil arrived at the UK in the thick of the second lockdown, with all non-essential businesses shut. Image by chriscopley.

It was hard for Mr Jolil to leave his home country in name of education, but it was a journey he had to make. “It was hard to leave Bangladesh as my whole family are there”, he said. “It was a tough decision to bid farewell to family and friends.

“However, in order to go forward in life, as I believe education is like a stairway that leads to progressive growth in everything, especially mental improvement, I had to do it.”

Mr Jolil, who was already used to online learning, said that he didn’t mind completing his course at home but wanted to experience the typical university lifestyle, of meeting up with friends, going to different events, and meeting his lecturers in person. “I wasn’t opposed to online learning, as I have completed courses online before.

“However, I had the mindset that coming to Bradford to complete my masters meant I would be able to explore the campus, meet people, and get an overall flavour and be part of university life.”

Despite having to learn from his university accommodation for the first few months of his postgrad degree, Mr Jolil has found Bradford to be student-friendly. “I missed out on the typical university life, but I have found the city to be accommodating to students. I also connected with teachers and university staff through video calls. For example, the librarians have been very helpful over the web with information on how to reference papers.”

Mr Jolil did get to use the university’s lab room to do group study sessions with his peers. Image by Josh Sorenson.

The easing of Covid-19 restrictions in the following months has allowed Mr Jolil to meet up with people on his course to study. “I increasingly do group study with my peers at the university lab room, as they have been open to us as access to these types of rooms were deemed essential to the study of my degree, says Mr Jolil.

He went on to say: “One day, there was an option for us to take a class from the lab with the teacher streaming from home. Around five to seven other students turned up at the lab and it was surprising, that half of the class were together in a room and the lecturer was conducting a class from home.”

Acknowledging that the pandemic was a difficult time for people everywhere, not just university students, Mr Jolil has a positive outlook on life. He said: “Overall, my university experience was different than imagined but everyone around the world has been going through a tough time.

“Better days will come, which is more than a motivation to go on, I believe. If everything goes right, after summer vacation, I am hoping to start classes on campus.”

Approximately 15% of the University of Bradford’s students are international, hailing from over 130 countries worldwide. With undergraduate tuition per year costing a maximum of £9250 for British nationals and £20,118 for international students, attracting international students is big business for universities.

Yearly tuition for postgraduate courses varies significantly, but standard classroom-based masters cost around £7,370 for home students and international students can expect to pay £17,682 for the same course, with fees rising to £20,118 for lab-based degrees.

International learners make up 12% of the University of Bradford’s students. Image by Jason Leung.

The university is helping its prospective students by providing them with £200 to their University of Bradford account to put towards pre-departure tests or quarantine after they have arrived in England and have enrolled.

A spokesperson for the University of Bradford said: “We have helped all our students including international through numerous ways. We have supported learning and teaching online, services have offered online support, plus a face-to-face option from last September.

“We extended our international crisis fund hardship funding support and our laptop loan scheme covered international students as well as home, with some international deliveries.

“We adopted a flexible approach to enrolment and staying in their country where needed, for example, interfaith takeaways. They were not exclusively for international students but heavily marketed to them. We also organised virtual activities and a buddy scheme.

“It is difficult to say if international students at the university have been impacted more than home students as everyone has had a unique experience. For some students, staying at home and studying online has made it harder to get to know the UK and fellow students.

“It has been harder to find work for international students to find work as well. Some international students have had a tough time, feeling isolated, and online learning in a second language can be harder for some than face-to-face learning.

“For others, there may have been less impact.  Finances have been hard, as most international students are self-paying, and many have experienced financial hardship with families at home who would otherwise have supported them in hardship and have been unable to.   It was also hard to get flights home at some points which was tough.”

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