10 Mar 2021

Auckland University students missing orientation

From First Up, 5:43 am on 10 March 2021

The start of the university year usually means dressing up in togas, breaking the ice with new classmates and plenty of socialising. But in Auckland, Covid-19 has once again interrupted the party.

The University of Auckland

The University of Auckland Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Moving cities can be lonely at the best of times, but finding your feet and meeting new people during a lockdown is an even more daunting prospect.

And although the level 3 Auckland lockdown finished on Sunday, the University of Auckland and Manukau Institute of Technology will not be holding in-person classes until the city drops back to level 1. 

This means many students are continuing to stay home and attend lectures via Zoom.

Tayla Dayal made the big move from Dunedin to study at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT), arriving just two hours before the city went into a week-long level 3 lockdown. 

She had planned to go flat hunting but lockdown made that tricky. 

"I don't really have many friends up here, so I was really hoping that being at uni and going flatting and being able to be out and about that I'd be able to meet some new people but unfortunately it had to be postponed a week."

Since the alert level change, AUT has moved to a mix of in-person and online teaching. 

According to the Ministry of Health guidelines there are no size restrictions for lectures and classes in level 2. 

However, it recommended that tertiary institutions limit capacity to enable physical distancing of one metre, where possible.

Ella Shepherd is a law student at the University of Auckland. 

She was looking forward to the first week back at uni.

"That was so disappointing because it was supposed to be the first week of classes back at Auckland University, so everyone was really excited. We had all these orientation week activities planned and clubs' expos, so to be told 24 hours before we were supposed to go back to class that you couldn't do it was really hard."

She said studying in Auckland was particularly isolating.

"I think it's hard [in a] sense of camaraderie [for] students as well because we can see our peers at Otago and Victoria going to class and living life like normal we're the only ones learning from home.

"You know in the last lockdown like the first one in April there was that 'team of five million - we're all in this together' but it doesn't quite feel like that anymore."   

It was the fourth lockdown for Auckland students in 12 months and Shephard said learning online was still a bit of a mixed bag.

"Some instructors have done a great job of moving everything online and are really technologically literate, it's easy to keep up and engage. Whereas other courses are less great online."

University of Auckland student association president Anamika Harirajh said last week's lockdown was disappointing because all of the events scheduled for orientation week had to be cancelled.  

"Going into lockdown on the Sunday before we were supposed to start the brand-new semester for this year was really difficult and it did take a toll on a lot of our students. 

"We didn't get the chance to give our students the first-year experience that we wanted to."

She said some first-year students were feeling lonely and isolated. 

"For a lot of our first-year students, obviously the vast majority of them are coming out of their year 13 high school, their last year of high school and that was heavily interrupted by Covid and to walk into university and to hope to have this brand-new experience and have it disrupted from the outset that must've been disappointing."

University of Auckland student conduct and care manager Liz Hosking-Clement said the uncertainty around alert levels was causing fatigue.

"I think there's just a general sense of fatigue about ongoing changes in alert levels. People sort of know what they need to do but there was a reflection that it's just hard to stay motivated and focussed when things are up and down all the time." 

She said a number of orientation events were held online last week to allow students to engage with one another and make new social connections.

"There was feedback from our student engagement team that there was a really good uptake of the social opportunities that were promoted.

"Students are clearly looking for avenues to be able to find and meet other people as they are starting out at university."

Both the University of Auckland and AUT have support services that can be accessed through their websites.