Coronavirus: How ag students are adapting during pandemic

Agriculture students have adapted to more online learning due to the coronavirus, but there is frustration at the pandemic’s negative affect on their social lives and job prospects.

Universities have needed to deliver their lectures online since March, but have managed to combine this with face-to-face teaching for socially-distanced, smaller seminar groups.

Government measures to try and control the virus have restricted social events that are a big part of student life – with pubs, clubs and bars needing to close for long periods over the past seven months.

See also: Coronavirus: How ag studies will restart in September

Farmers Weekly spoke to students at Harper Adams University, Shropshire, and the Royal Agricultural University (RAU), Cirencester, to hear about their experiences during the pandemic.

Joe Bramall, 20, is in his second year studying Agri-Business at Harper Adams. Despite all of his lectures being online, he said the course is being delivered to a high standard and none of his teaching hours had been cut.

Seminars with smaller class sizes can still be attended on campus.

Joe Bramall with cows

© Joe Bramall

Placements blow

But the coronavirus did scupper his chances of a work placement this year. “I was meant to do that with Waitrose, but they dropped their placement scheme. That hasn’t happened too much, I was just one of the unfortunate ones,” Mr Bramall said.

He will instead wait until next year and has applied for placements at companies including the Co-op and McDonald’s. “It is difficult, but everyone is adapting,” he added.

Emily Jones

© Emily Jones

Emily Jones, 21, also studies Agri-Business at Harper Adams and is in her final year. She said: “The only real difference is that lectures are online, which is certainly different, but given the circumstances this was to be expected.”

Ms Jones said being able to pause and replay lectures has been helpful for the tricky fourth-year modules. But the restrictions on social events during her final year have been difficult.

“The most frustrating thing is, certainly, not being able to socialise properly and enjoy student nights out, but we’re staying positive and enjoying what we can,” Ms Jones said. This includes themed dinner parties and wine-and-cheese nights with her six housemates.

Lucy Griffiths

© Lucy Griffiths

Lucy Griffiths, 20, is in her second year studying Agriculture with Animal Science at Harper Adams. She said the new teaching methods have improved since the start of the pandemic as they become more familiar.

“Our lecture times have not been cut, but some practical classes have had time alterations to allow people to move around the campus following social distancing [requirements] affecting some buildings,” Ms Griffiths said.

‘Bubble village’

At RAU, student union president Lewis Bebb said the university worked hard to provide a safe freshers’ week for new students in September.

A “bubble village” was created, with 15 marquees used to split the freshers into smaller groups. A 20ft-high screen streamed DJ sets and drinks were delivered to the pods.

Row of tents in field

The ‘bubble village’ created for freshers’ week at RAU © Lewis Bebb

Mr Bebb said the university had also moved to a blend of online and face-to-face teaching. For first-year students living on campus, there is plenty of support in place.

“Every week we have drop-in clinics on Zoom, which are very informal, to discuss any issues, and there is a university Covid email address as well. The communication between the university, student union and the students is so clear, it is a very open-book policy,” Mr Bebb said.

How is the pandemic affecting you?

If you are a college or university agriculture student and would like to share your experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, please email ed.henderson@markallengroup.com

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