Online learning during Covid – A student perspective

By Bethany Brinsmead-Williams

I’m a first-year English student at the University of Exeter, and have just experienced the impact of Covid-19 on my first two terms. It’s been a very strange year – with words and phrases such as ‘key worker’, ‘social distancing’, ‘lockdown’ and ‘masks’ becoming everyday language. And, of course, what with social distancing and restrictions on meeting in person, this academic year has been an interesting one. In the beginning, it was a little unsure whether I’d even be able to move to university, and the run-up to my September move-in date was a nervous one, due to the swiftly changing rules and restrictions!

Many of my peers were unsure about whether they should commit to university this year, or whether taking a gap year was the better option for them. Personally, I was eager to begin my university experience, and so was willing to accept some restrictions in order to start the next stage in my academic journey. I haven’t regretted my decision to start university in the slightest – although it hasn’t been exactly what I expected, overall my first year at university has been an incredible experience. It’s been filled with new friends, engaging teaching, exciting new challenges, and a lot of memories to look back on (yes, including the lockdowns!). As my subject hasn’t yet been advised that we should return to university, I’m currently studying from my family home, but I’m confident that my studies aren’t being negatively affected in the slightest – I’m still able to access the resources I need, connect with academics and peers, and keep learning, wherever I am, and am very thankful for the technology that allows this.

A positive of the last two terms has been that everybody I’ve met has been really keen to connect – people were purposefully putting in effort, planning group walks, meeting in outside spaces and studying in cafes (when restrictions allowed), and overall it was still completely possible to meet with my peers. Of course, the restrictions provided a bit of a challenge at times, but we’ve just all had to be a little more inventive, making the most of times when we were able to meet in person, and organising socially distanced walks or video calls when we had to stay apart. I may have met a few less people than I would have in an ‘ordinary’ year, but I think I’ve got to know those I have met really well – we’ve had to purposefully organise ways to meet, and so have made the most of our opportunities!

At times, it has felt like a bit of a shame to not be able to do things in person, and I do look forward to next year, when hopefully I’ll be able to attend more lectures and seminars in person – but overall, I don’t feel that there has been any negative impact on my studies as a result of coronavirus. Of course, it’s been a different experience – but in no way has it been a bad one!

I have experienced a limited amount of in-person learning, attending a few seminars on campus but mostly I’ve been watching lectures and attending seminars from behind my computer screen. When I was studying on the university campus, all the measures that could be taken to minimise the chances of Covid-19 spreading were taken – social distancing, open windows, masks in seminars, hand sanitiser and careful tracking removed a lot of the potential concern around the idea of interacting with others. However, I learnt very quickly that, when attending seminars in person, masks and glasses don’t mix!

So, overall, my learning has been online – and overall, it’s been enjoyable and encouraging! Throughout the last two terms, the university has listened to students and done what they can to allow us to keep learning in an un-interrupted way. The university team have been incredibly understanding of the potential extra stress caused by Coronavirus – and one of the ways they’ve helped take some of the pressure off of us students was connected to their mitigation policy in the first term. The student body were allowed to ask for extensions without needing to offer a reason – a decision which lessened the pressure and demonstrated that the university was aware of the strangeness of this year of study.

It’s also been easy to access everything I needed – whether texts from the online section of the library or office hours with my seminar leaders. There are, of course, a few frustrations around online learning (with muting and unmuting and connection issues being the main annoyances) but the quality of the learning has remained outstanding. A bonus connected to online learning for me was not having to trek up the sizeable hill that lies between my accommodation and the campus!

Another really positive element of online learning has been the freedom to study wherever we like. There have been available study spaces across the campus, but I also have a friend who’s been attending their seminars and lectures on a bench outside their accommodation and enjoying being able to spend time outside in a way we wouldn’t have been able to, in a ‘normal’ year. I’ve also made the most of the beautiful Streatham campus and studied outside as much as I could!

I’ve still been able to interact with my peers and with the lecturers and seminar leaders – especially through office hours, and through the last two terms I’ve been able to easily sign in and connect with people. As would be expected, these interactions have been different to how they would be in a more normal year, but they’ve still been meaningful and important to my learning. Involvement in conversations and discussions has also been very possible, with our seminar leaders ensuring every participant is able to voice their opinions – whether that’s through recognising that someone is holding back from speaking (an impressive feat from the other side of the screen), or simply taking the time to ask each individual about what they have to add to the discussion.

There have also been opportunities to join extra workshops and talks – and many things that would usually happen in person (such as poetry-reading sessions and citation workshops) have been offered online throughout this time of restrictions. Even group work has still been able to happen – in my seminar groups, we’ve given presentations and edited Shakespeare, utilising video calls and online document-editing to work together whilst being separated.

Connections with other students and with lecturers and academics have still been very possible – they’ve just required a little more organising, and as would be expected, have often been online. Many of the university’s societies have continued to meet online throughout the periods of lockdown and restriction, and I’ve been able to partake in a multitude of activities – from a virtual weekend away to Zoom bake-alongs!

It’s actually been a very exciting and memorable experience, and it’s been interesting to see all the different ways clubs and societies have provided ways for their members to meet. I’ve taken part in a city-wide photo scavenger hunt, joined orchestra rehearsals in which every member muted themselves and played along to a recording, and joined a group of artists to chat as we worked on our individual projects. There have been socials, quizzes, lessons and informal chats – and although it hasn’t been quite what I expected, I’ve still been able to connect with many people who share my interests, and I look forward to carrying those connections into the next term and year.

Of course, it’s been an odd year – but it has been a fun one! I already have many memories to look back on that would never have existed without Covid – a variety of walks, the hilarity of trying to communicate through masks, the experience of lockdowns – in 10 years, I’m sure I’ll look back on this entire experience with fond memories, and enjoy telling stories from this very strange beginning to the next stage of my life.

In many ways, you could look at the past few months as the ‘worst case’ scenario – but yet, I can confidently say that it’s been a positive and enjoyable experience. I will admit that it hasn’t been quite what I expected, but I can truthfully say that I have no regrets about deciding to start university this academic year. Of course, I look forward to restrictions lifting and things being more in person again, but I’m very glad I made the decision to take the leap and start my first year of university during Coronavirus. My first year of university has certainly been unusual – but has also certainly been an amazing experience!


Read more about the commitment to our students university experience 

Helping students get ahead – Careers, Skills and Graduate Employment

Here at the University of Exeter our Careers Service help prepare students for life and work after University, offering quality assistance and advice throughout their course, and for as long as they need it after Graduation. At our Career Zone, we support students with their career planning, whatever stage they are at. Whether it’s a case of not knowing the sector they are interested in yet or the options that their degree offers them.

At registration each year, every new or continuing student indicates their current level of career planning by picking one of ten statements. The Career Zone then aims to equip students to ‘Decide’, ‘Plan’ and ‘Compete’ for opportunities and follow their chosen graduate career path. Our Careers Zone and Careers Information Desks help with a wide range of enquiries, such as:

  • CV and application form advice.
  • Booking 1:1 appointments.
  • Advice on finding work experience, graduate jobs, or postgraduate study.
  • Guidance for interviews and assessment centres.
  • Helping students decide which of our free workshops and events will be right for them.

The University of Exeter is committed to widen participation in higher education, raise pupil attainment and put students on a level playing field to ensure they enjoy the best possible outcomes at University and as graduates, and as such offer additional support to students from a Widening Participation background.

Access to Internships

This fund helps undergraduate students who meet the Widening Participation (WP) Criteria, to arrange a 4 week (or 140 hour) paid internship with a UK: Micro, SME (an organisation with less than 250 employees) Charity, Statutory Organisation or University of Exeter Academic or Professional Service, by fully subsidising the cost of the internship wages. A bursary may also be available to help with any personal costs on a UK paid internship. All funds are issued on a first-come-first-serve basis. Students can apply for one employer subsidy and one ‘help getting to work’ bursary, if eligible, per year.

Confidential Guidance Appointments

The appointment can be either face to face or via telephone or skype. They are designed to offer personalised one to one advice and guidance and give time to discuss student’s career questions and concerns. They normally last about 30 minutes, but we can offer extra time if needed for complex queries.

Equality & Diversity Employability Support Pages

This includes information around disclosing a disability as well as employer initiatives and opportunities for those from WP backgrounds.

Career Mentor Scheme

The Career Mentor Scheme is a popular employability scheme which matches a student or graduate with an experienced professional, for sector insight and one-to-one careers advice and guidance, over a 6 month period.

The eXepert Scheme

The eXepert scheme is a fuss-free way to connect with University of Exeter alumni to ask careers questions.


Click here information on the careers support offered to students at the University of Exeter

Spotlight on the Penryn Campus, Cornwall

The University of Exeter has three campus. In Exeter we have the Streatham and St Luke’s Campuses, and in Cornwall we have our Penryn Campus. Throughout this week current students from each campus will talk about their experiences of studying at their campus, what makes it so unique and why they made the decision to study at the University of Exeter.

Today Zac Lazarou (BSc Zoology) tells us about his experience of studying on the Penryn Campus, Cornwall.

The main reason I chose the Penryn campus is its unique location, Cornwall. Being a bioscience student, I did not want a city environment, and instead easy access to outdoor settings, especially the coastline. Secondary to this, was the look and feel of the campus itself, everything is modern and state-of-the art, with laboratories, seminar rooms and lecture theatres, library, bar, and café all in close-proximity. I also loved the emphasis on green spaces around campus with plenty of areas to relax in between studying or simply as an outdoor social space among peers. Finally, the community feel, as a mature student I felt accepted on campus regardless of my age or background and the synergy of sharing a campus with Falmouth University brought about a unique relationship between the science and humanities with the arts.

Drawing on my previous comment about sharing a campus with Falmouth University, it creates a distinct community of creatives and academics, in turn providing a plethora of opportunities in both societies, events and the diversity of students drawn to the campus. The environmental ethos on campus is also something I found unique. Facilities such as the cafeteria source their produce locally with a push to reduce single use plastic and use recyclable or reusable products. Recycling points are scattered all over campus so that you are never too far in disposing of rubbish appropriately. The campus itself hosts a variety of green spaces from grassland, scrub, hedgerows, and treelines, this attracts numerous native species and being a zoologist, it is a great place to explore nature. With the campus being in Cornwall, I have some of the most incredible coastline in the country on my doorstep, which in turn brings the Cornish outdoor lifestyle that I have fully-embraced with rock-climbing, hiking and sea swimming. The campus is very well integrated to the local community, which is something I did not feel at other universities. The university and the student union alike, organise engaging events or activities in the local area, on campus or between local community groups. These experiences really enrich my university journey, as I not only joined the University of Exeter, but I have also moved to Cornwall and want to integrate in living here as much as possible rather than just being a student.

Zoology was the perfect fit for me, as it is a wide-scoping degree in terms bioscience that covers whole organism biology, evolutionary theory, and broad-scale ecology. I was not exactly sure what I wanted to specify my interests in, Zoology offered a lot of modularity so I could choose topics in marine biology, animal behaviour and ecology and conservation. I knew that this would allow me to experiment with my interests and discover what worked for me. What also jumped out at me, are the practical aspects in both the field and the lab. My knowledge of the natural world was limited before joining the course, so being able to learn theory in lectures or seminars then apply that practically solidifies knowledge while gaining real-world experience.

Field courses are arguably the most distinctive aspect of my course. The emphasis on gaining relative experience in real-world scenarios provides skills that would not normally be available through taught lectures or seminars. The University is research led, thus the field sites we venture too are there to build upon what we have already learnt and also give new and challenging experiences in understanding biological aspects, especially species and environments not found in the British Isles. For example, my second-year field course, although having to go virtual due to Coronavirus, explored the montane ecology of the Pyrenees. Key topics were how altitudinal gradients effect biodiversity and ecological assemblages, transhumance farming in mountainous regions, migratory patterns of species, human-wildlife conflict and conservation strategies that incorporate socio-economic benefits while promoting biodiversity. All these aspects were explored broadly and in-depth, and which I would not have learned typically in lectures or perhaps not have fully understood without this applied outlook.

One of the defining factors for me, was the sense of community and welcoming. The moment I received an email from the University it felt personal and non-generic. Then fast-forward to my offer-holder visit day, the staff, student ambassadors and academics were so friendly and approachable. Students I interacted with at other Universities often seemed bored, uninterested and were only doing it for the experience which left me quite cold. In contrast the students at the University of Exeter were incredibly upbeat, passionate about their courses, student-life and most importantly ready to answer any questions I had. The academics went above and beyond in detailing the structure of my course, teaching methods and the utility of gaining experience through university opportunities. I felt like I was going to be taught by leaders in their field and learning topics that were informed by the latest research.

As a mature student, one of my biggest worries was fitting in while being older than most students and how the university accommodated for those circumstances. It was a relief to know that the university had a dedicated mature student group, allowing to meet other students in the same situation, but regardless of my age I also felt well integrated with the university community. Unlike other universities I had visited, staff were very supportive of mature students in terms of accommodation, financing, and part-time job opportunities. All these aspects influenced my decision, knowing that I would be well supported, be able to utilise opportunities that enhanced my experience, be part of a dynamic and welcoming community and finally being taught by leading academics.  

A large part of final year is to conduct a research project alongside an academic supervisor. For instance, my project looks at Gall wasp communities, primarily focusing on the evolutionary and ecological mechanisms that sustain the rich biodiversity in an enclosed ecosystem, especially due to the parasitic interactions that should cause species exclusion. As a bioscience student, this project encompasses everything we have been taught throughout our degree, from theory, essay-writing, field and lab work, objective critical thinking to comprehension of current literature. I believe it is the best way to embody our knowledge and experience and applying that to something that can contribute to the latest findings in research. What I find most rewarding, is the autonomy of the project, as we need to come up with our own methodologies, spend time background reading the topic and conduct all the data collection and analysis ourselves. At this point I truly feel like a scientist and perhaps imposter syndrome is kicking too.

Penryn offers a plethora of societies and sports, I believe 150 or so, for a campus inhabiting 7000 students that’s quite a lot. From quidditch and lacrosse, to gaming and dungeons & dragons. There is something for everyone, and I also think the creative arts from the Falmouth students certainly enhances society opportunities which provides unique hobbies or interests to explore during university. With the campus having an environmental ethos, student led societies build upon this to further contribute to the student experience. My interests are mostly associated with nature and outdoor activities, these societies are very much front and centre during my time on campus. For example, EcoSoc (Ecological Society) host events to teach students about natural-history, particularly local native species, as well as partnering with local conservation groups to conduct volunteer days or surveys. WildDocSoc (Wildlife Documentary Society) host film nights for students to watch natural-history documentaries and bring in guest wildlife filmmakers to talk to students about their journey into the industry while sharing their incredible stories. MarineWatch partner with a local wildlife-watching business that take students on boating trips to watch marine-life off the Falmouth estuary where we can spot peregrine falcons, common dolphins and minke whale.

I am personally part of a committee called Life Magazine as the photo-editor, it is a student-led publication focusing on science-communication and journalism with an emphasis on natural history. I like to think of it as the universities version of National Geographic. The quality of each issues is always mind-blowing to me and each committee member dedicates a great deal of work to produce a polished and professional magazine which we are all very proud of. We also host workshops on photography, writing, illustration, and graphic design, it’s a great way to engage with the student body and also provide skills that perhaps some may pursue in their career.

In terms of volunteering, the university and the students union are partnered with many community groups, such as the Flicka Donkey Sanctuary, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Cornwall Seal Sanctuary, and many others. It’s great that as students, we are spoilt for choice in extracurricular activities to get involved with, the variety accommodates for peoples wide-ranging interests and alongside studies can ensure we gain a fulfilling experience during our journey at the campus.

The Cornish lifestyle is perhaps my favourite aspect of living in Penryn. Cornwall offers so much in terms of outdoor activities, unique locations to explore and as I keep repeating, the sense of community. The traditional university setting is often within the hustle and bustle of a city environment, whereas Penryn is very much integrated to a rural landscape. This in turn provides an incredible backdrop of the British countryside and the stunning Cornish coastline. In my free time, I am either exploring coastal walks, searching for local wildlife, relaxing on beaches, swimming, or rock climbing which I could not imagine doing at most other universities. It is this integration that makes my university experience so enriching and embracing a totally different lifestyle to the London one I had before moving here. Obviously this may not be for everyone, some prefer a city environment with a cosmopolitan feel and vibrant nightlife but if you have a sense of outdoor adventure, like me, then Penryn is ideal given the swath opportunities both at the University and the wider-community in Cornwall.

Spotlight on our Streatham Campus, Exeter

I really enjoyed the location, of Devon and the South-West in general. I had intended to come to a visit day delayed by snow and so when I came in spring it was gorgeous to behold. Streatham was the choice as St Lukes is the medical campus so the Devon Campus and so liking Devon and Exeter in general meant that Streatham was the choice for me. It wasn’t too far from home, but neither did it feel like I was too close either as I wanted the freedom to be able to get home if I really really needed but not be in a position where I would just go home on the weekends and not truly “live” as much at university like some of my friends who went to universities with locations much closer to home for that reason. Streatham was well located and I wanted a campus for my university experience compared to a city experience. I also chose Streatham for the variety of accommodation options, when I had to list my preferences I felt that I wouldn’t have minded being put in any of them even as I obviously had a favourite and this helped make it really appealing to make a choice like that over Penryn or other universities for me personally. I also chose Streatham because while not out of the way, it wasn’t a campus in the middle of Exeter and therefore I felt that I’d not only be slightly safer though this wasn’t the primary concern but that it would generally be quieter for me at night and that when I did want or need to go into Exeter that the trade-off wasn’t so great in terms of being close enough to be a short walk but far enough to not have constant noise at night into the early hours.

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Reduced offers

At the University of Exeter, we value the skills and experience that students derive from undertaking an EPQ/studying Core Maths. We will therefore take a student’s EPQ and/or Core Maths grade into account when making an offer.

If a student holds a Grade A in EPQ or Core Maths (or both), we may make a reduced offer of one grade for most of our programmes.

For example: BA History, Streatham
Typical Offer: AAA
Reduced offer (with EPQ or Core Maths Grade A): AAB

If your students have any questions about how their offer for the University of Exeter might alter in light of an EPQ/Core Maths grade, they can contact our admissions team here:

WebEnquire online
Phone: 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers)*
+44 (0)1392 723044 (EU/International callers)

* Calling us on an 0300 number will cost you the same as a call to a standard landline number starting with 01 and 02.

Free and accessible resources for your students over the summer

Though current challenges mean face-to-face interaction with universities is limited, there’s never been a better opportunity for students to engage with us online. We want to reassure you we will be here throughout the summer for both students and yourselves.



There are plenty of opportunities for students to engage with current staff and students online. There are opportunities to ask questions about life and study at University, as well as support with personal statements, applications and more.

Students have three options they can either talk to:

  1. Current students using Unibuddy
  2. Academics at our live Unibuddy events
  3. University Outreach Staff and current students on Our Discover University Facebook Page

Unibuddy is a free online chat service which connects prospective students with university ambassadors.   It gives your students real-time access to people at our university, so they can chat about the things it doesn’t say in the brochure. This can replicate the conversations they may have had when attending a physical Open day or UCAS Exhibition about a subject they are interested in or student life.  There is no limit for how many conversations or questions students can ask so it is a worthwhile resource to be accessed year round for all ages of students.  Many universities have this resource which helps students make an informed decision alongside their research from University websites.

The academic live chat schedule can be accessed here.

University of Exeter Discover University is a collection of online activities and resources designed to support students, parent/guardians, teachers and advisers through various digital platforms. Examples of events include online subject conferences, live streamed advice and guidance workshops and a live lecture series.


Teachers/HE Advisors

It is time for a well-deserved rest, when looking ahead to the next year please visit our new website for teachers/HE Advisors which has useful free resources to support you and your students.

An example of this are our short animated videos on crucial topics such Personal Statements and Wellbeing.  Feel free to circulate these to your students as an accessible introduction to the topics.

We also have short interactive factsheets on topics from lectures, labs and budgeting to help prepare year 13 for University which can be downloaded as PDFs.  These can then be accessed offline in the students own time and worked through at their leisure.

As a Teacher/HE Advisor please feel free to email us at to talk to the Outreach Officer in your region to discuss how we can support your school/college.



Our ‘In Conversation’ series aims to provide useful insights of topical higher education issues from a University perspective. The sessions are delivered by Dr Karl Devincenzi, School Relationship Manager, who is joined by key members of staff from our university community. Each session delves into different topics and aims to provide information and guidance for prospective students.

In this episode, Katherine and Karl explore the implications of student number caps for this year’s application cycle, the implications of Covid-19 for students starting in September and how opportunities such as study abroad and industrial placements may be affected.

Top tips for Clearing

With clearing for 2020 entry opening on 6 July, here are some top tips for students;


Do your research

When you become eligible to apply for a University place in Clearing, you might have to contact lots of universities on the same day and make decisions quickly. It’s normal for this to be daunting, but going into the process equipped with knowledge will help make it as stress free as possible.

Understand what Clearing is and how it works.

Research universities and courses you might be interested in.


Get ready

You might have to wait until you get your results to be eligible for Clearing, but you can gather all the information you’ll need on the day in advance. When you’ve identified some universities and colleges you are interested in, keep checking their websites for Clearing information. Vacancies may be listed from 6 July onwards.


Write down a list of course options (including UCAS codes) and find out how you should be contacting providers, i.e. phone, completing online Clearing forms, webchat etc. – you don’t want to be panicking to find information on the day.

Get all the correct documentation together including your UCAS Personal ID.

Prepare copies of academic results and any other tests such as English Language so that you have these ready to send.

Check who will be available to help you at your school or college and at home; universities will only be able to give general information to teachers, advisers and parents unless they are your nominated UCAS contact so check who this is.


Talk to universities

Whilst we are in this time of uncertainty universities still very much want to help you to decide if we are the right university for you. Here at the University of Exeter you will have the opportunity to explore your subject of interest, as well as chat to our central and academic staff and current students either online or in person during clearing.


Keep results day free

Keep your results day free (plus the following weekend).

Make sure you’ve got a working phone, pen and paper and access to the internet.

We advise all applicants to complete our online clearing form. This form is quick and easy to complete, it is also the quickest way for you to receive a decision from Exeter.


How do I find a place through Clearing?

It is important to ensure that you consider all your options and don’t rush. Take your time to make the right decision for you.

If you go through Clearing and find that your grades are not high enough to secure the place you want, we would advise you to consider your options. You might decide that retaking your exams and applying again the following year is the best option for you.


Contacting the University of Exeter

Our admissions team will be available to help with any queries and questions via our online chat

Students can also sign up for our Clearing emails and we’ll let you know when our places in Clearing become available as well as top tips and guidance for applying through the Clearing process.


Changes to UCAS Decision Dates

In light of the current situation UCAS have helped ease the pressure on students by extending the decision making deadline for 2020 entry. All students will have been advised via email by UCAS that there has been an extension to their decision deadline and the first deadline extension is now due, so it is a good time to encourage students to log-on to UCAS Track and confirm their firm and insurance choices if they haven’t already done so.

Decision deadline dates will vary depending on when students received their offers;

  • If the last decision was received on or before 4 June 2020, then the reply date is 18 June 2020 (except if they are using Extra to find a place)
  • If the last decision was received on or before 13 July 2020, then the reply date is 20 July 2020 (including Extra choices)

If students do not reply by these dates then their offers will be automatically declined.

Not all students will have access to their School or College email address on A-Level results day, so it is also a good time to remind students to please update their email address on UCAS to a personal email address to ensure they continue to receive the most up to information from both UCAS and the universities they are applying to.

Meet the Schools Team

Led by our Recruitment and Schools Relationship Manager, Dr Karl Devincenzi, here at the University of Exeter we have a team of Outreach Officers delivering our Student Recruitment and Outreach activity with schools and colleges across the United Kingdom.

We provide information, advice and guidance for prospective students, parents/guardians, teachers and advisers through a series of presentations, workshops and visits to our campuses in Devon and Cornwall.

Each of our Outreach Officers cover a different region and provide schools and colleges with a personalised service to help support your staff and students.

If you would like to discuss opportunities to work with your school or college please and the Outreach Officer for your region will get back to you.