As a new academic year begins and students return to institutions altered like never before by the coronavirus pandemic, we take a look at how Scotland’s colleges and universities are adapting to the new normal – and what this means for new and returning students.

How has teaching changed?

As instructed by the Scottish Government, universities and colleges have switched to a “hybrid” system. Most have taken this to mean that large classes – such as lectures and guest speakers – are solely online, with smaller groupings such as tutorial classes and laboratory sessions remaining in-person.

Some institutions are even letting their students ‘phone home’ from around the world through fully-online classes; others have pre-recorded and shared the coming semester’s catalogue of lectures to their students in advance.

Existing classes have been altered considerably, pared back or replaced entirely to facilitate distance-learning, and most universities are planning on minimising in-person exams as far as possible, in favour of enhanced coursework and online exams.

What’s happening in the halls of residence?

Put away the Jägermeister – student halls have quietened like never before. RA’s – older students who live in Halls at a discounted rate – have been doing their best to move their events online, under strict instruction to enforce the rules: “We’ve been told we need to ask people to separate or leave if the amount of people goes against government guidelines – and to call the wardens if the situation is too difficult to handle, such as a party” said Ece Kucuk, a second year RA at Edinburgh University. “I wish we could have in-person events and I’m sure most of us feel the same way – but I’d rather have stricter regulations now than to have things get worse. People have been able to make friends over Zoom, and those who are self-isolating don’t feel separated”.

How are student societies adapting?

The older students in charge of sports clubs and societies have moved their calendar online, hosting video meet-and-greets, digital cocktail hours and live-streamed guest speakers. New students have been issued with an extensive calendar of online events – but it’s clear that recruiting new members over Zoom isn’t so easy. Rob Bazaral, editor-in-chief of Edinburgh’s The Student newspaper, said: “We’re all trying our best to deal with the circumstances and everyone is in the same boat – but it’s difficult to win over new students to write for the paper over the internet, especially in this difficult time for print media”. Like most societies, The Student has moved fully online – and with that the opportunities for new students to make friends has fallen significantly. For new students, it’s clear that the experience is very limited – and many are holding out hope for a do-over Freshers week in January of next year.