Cambridge University Lockdown: a Student’s Experience


Undoubtedly, the current Covid-19 pandemic has changed the dynamics of everyday life and has meant that we have had to learn to adapt and adjust to a ‘new reality’. This was no different for university students. Cambridge University is known for its intense but highly rewarding work environment, its unique supervision teaching style and its academically stimulating lectures. These are all the things we love about Cambridge but, due to Coronavirus, students had to learn to live in Cambridge without experiencing many of its positives.  

Cambridge University’s Response to Covid-19

Before allowing students to return in October 2020, the university was in constant communication with its community and had put in place a series of measures. They would ensure students would be able to still receive some form of the ‘Cambridge experience’ whilst also being able to maintain a Covid-safe environment. Cambridge students were lucky to receive the option of having free weekly asymptomatic testing, for anyone who wanted it. This ensured that students had some level of security as they operated around the university.

 Furthermore, compulsory rules across the University included wearing a mask in all indoor facilities, sanitising hands and social distancing where possible. These were the general university guidelines that were in line with government guidelines.

Cambridge University and Faculty Libraries

More specific details and rules were given depending on which facility students were using. This meant that university and faculty libraries, for example, adopted a pre-booking system, rather than having students use the library on a walk-in basis. 

Extra-Curricular Activities

Cambridge University’s response to the pandemic also meant that there was a change in extra-curricular activities. Societies that could took their events for the Michaelmas term online, whilst others had to provide socially distanced entertainment. Most sporting societies continued, but not without greater restrictions. This was all before the second lockdown was announced. So, whilst university life became a lot more restricted, many members of the university community strived to ensure that students were still able to enjoy their term at Cambridge. 

Cambridge College Life

Your college is a big determining factor on how you experience Cambridge. The current pandemic has meant that ‘college life’ has become centre of many Cambridge student’s university experience. While the university had general Covid guidelines, each college has its own set of rules that students have to agree to before the start of term. This meant that, for example, in some colleges students were able to bring guests under certain conditions but for other colleges, non-resident guests were not allowed, and students were not permitted to stay anywhere outside their term address during term time. 

Household System within Colleges

All colleges had set up a household system whereby students were allowed to socialise, share a kitchen and operate around college.  For many students the different households came to represent student support bubbles. Communication within your household became the easiest way to escape the intensity of the Cambridge workload and even more so the intensity of the Cambridge environment during a pandemic. Even though university life became a lot more centred around my college, each college provided a range of activities and facilities, to support their students through what was a very ‘different’ Michaelmas term.

Lectures & Supervisions

In Summer 2020, Cambridge university announced that it was going to move all lectures online. This meant that for STEM subjects in-person lab work continued, supervisors attempted to have some in-person meetings, where possible, and small socially distanced classes were allowed in some circumstances. 

Lectures were either live over Zoom or pre-recorded. Whilst pre-recorded lectures were beneficial, in that it meant students were able to ensure that they could go through the lecture at their own pace, it was hard to balance watching lectures on time and simultaneously writing weekly essays. Some of my supervisions were in person but after a while it became convenient to have them online. This was not the case for all students, as some had a greater variety of online and in-person teaching than I did. The most difficult aspect of online learning is finding the motivation to want to learn. 

Looking back

Looking back, it is undeniable that Michaelmas Term 2020 was very different to any other term I have experienced at Cambridge University. At first it was difficult to adapt to all the new changes wrought by Covid-19, but after a while I came to embrace the new Cambridge lifestyle.

The Government has yet to issue guidance on when most students (apart from those needing to use the lab facilities) will be able to return to Cambridge.  Lent Term 2021 has seen most Cambridge University students studying from home online. Whilst we don’t know what life will be like at the university after April, I am eager to return for Easter Term 2021.