Name: Student life.

Age: Ongoing since the first university opened 1,161 years ago.

Appearance: People sitting around in their parents’ house, nodding at a webcam.

That doesn’t sound right. Well, times have changed.

But why? For the same reason that you’re suddenly afraid of deliverymen and haven’t worn socks for three months. It’s because of coronavirus, silly.

Explain yourself. The University of Cambridge has announced that it is going online-only for the full 2020-2021 academic year, with no face-to-face lectures, and exams being carried out virtually.

So just like the Open University. Pretty much. And what’s the point of that?

Hey, I know lots of brilliant people with Open University qualifications. I know, it’s fantastic. But nobody goes to university to learn stuff.

They don’t? Of course they don’t. They go because it means they can leave home, fend for themselves and meet new people. The life experience of university is rich and exciting – so much more valuable than whatever educational qualification you happen to get at the end.

You went before fees came in and got a 2:2, didn’t you? Busted.

I knew it. But, seriously, the effect this will have on students is going to be profound. You can’t virtually mimic the experience of Freshers’ Week. Or of using your A-level results as a conversational tactic, getting blackout drunk and having a regrettable sexual experience with someone you’ll keep bumping into for the next three years.

It’s a pity. And what about living with the catastrophic shame of being called out for napping during a lecture? What sort of monsters are we going to raise if they can just switch off their webcams and fall asleep uncontested?

Will this have an effect on admissions? Yes. One in five students plan to defer for a year, probably since there won’t be any jobs left once they have graduated anyway.

And what about student politics? Oh, this will kill it dead. Boycotting a controversial speaker is much less dramatic if it just involves muting someone’s microphone on Zoom.

So what choice do students have? Well, they want to get a useful qualification, and also undergo the world-changing social experience of student life, but Covid-19 has put an end to that, right?

Right. So the answer is clear. For the former, all prospective students should watch one of those expensive video masterclasses where Gordon Ramsay teaches you how to cook an egg properly.

And then? For the latter, they should channel their pent-up desire for experimentation into a harrowing midlife crisis when they get to about 40. The complete university experience, and no boring online lectures to sit through.

Do say: “Students can still experience university under lockdown.”

Don’t say: “But with none of the good bits. Plus it still costs £9,250 a year.”



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