There are maybe three things that come to mind when I think about what uni taught me: first years will always get stuck in the revolving doors of the Menzies building, P’s really do get degrees, and your student union matters.

Now more than ever, your union’s here to help you through this extraordinarily miserable time. I thought working from home sucked, and then I remembered students – uni students, some on the brink of graduation – somehow have to learn from home and pass an online exam. I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how utterly shit (and lonely) this time has been for some of you so allow this yarn to remind you that you’re not alone, no matter how disconnected you might be feeling right now.

Righto, who can actually help me?

Your student union! Whether you’re having an issue with a tutor and you want to make a complaint or you just need someone to talk to, your student union is there to help. At Melbourne’s Monash University, students can make an appointment online via the Student Advocacy and Support service.

“Students can speak to one of our fantastic supporters and advocates there, and tell them what their problem is. From there we can really identify where the issue is and create that change,” Monash University Association (MSA) President James McDonald said. You’ll find it’s the same sort of process at most campuses.

So what can your student union do and why should you care about them?

“Student unions have the ability to organise the voices of students and present them as a united force,” Hannah Buchan, UMSU (University of Melbourne Student Union) President told P.TV. “Universities are not always thinking in the interests of students, and student unions are bodies which campaign and can change the position of the university.”

I have a really shitty internet connection, what do I do?

Making the transition to online learning is going to take some getting used to, especially if you don’t have a decent internet connection… or a desk. Most if not all universities have announced a number of emergency grants for students in crisis. These grants are open to both domestic and international students. The packages include things like accomodation cover, laptop loans, e-vouchers, and money for groceries.

Take Macquarie University for example: domestic and international students can receive multiple levels of support through Macquarie’s student success support package.You can apply for e-vouchers (up to $250), or apply for a Financial Assistance Grant of up to $2,000 or a Financial Assistance Loan of up to $2,000 (first payment by November 2020).

You can find a whole list of university grants right here. But, let’s also take a minute to talk about the Coronavirus Supplement. The package, announced by the Government in March, is available to domestic students. If eligible, you will start to receive an additional $550 per fortnight from April 27, 2020 for the next six months. This will be paid on top of your existing income payment rate / Youth Allowance, Austudy or ABSTUDY. 

Will pracs and labs go online at some point?

“There are some classes that just can’t be taught online,” McDonald said. “Monash identified that early on and didn’t make what would essentially be a failed attempt at trying to run a lab class online.”

“I’m an environmental studies student myself and I spend a lot of time looking at rocks, so I know for a fact that that would be pretty difficult to do online,” he said.

There’s just no point trying to teach a practical tutorial online, expecting the same quality of education as a prac on campus. So in most cases, pracs and labs have been delayed until further notice. It’s still unclear how universities will make up for this, which is part of the concern.

What about internships and placements?

Honestly? It depends on your faculty. There’s no one answer.

With everything going on, I just don’t think I’m going to pass this semester. What can I do?

Mate, fair enough.

About two weeks ago, MSA shared the ripper news that they had successfully binned Examity – an invasive third party invigilation software – and announced that fail grades will not be recorded this semester. So that means a fail won’t affect your WAM or appear on your Academic Transcript.

Similarly, UNSW has moved away from the traditional grading system of Credit, Distinction, and High Distinction.

Instead they’re going to go to an SY grade, which is a satisfactory grading mark,” SRC President Emanuelle Risoldi said. The way it works is a student will either receive SY (successful) or FL (fail). But the failed grade will not appear on your Official Academic Transcript, count to your WAM, or be included in the calculation of your academic standing, and it won’t count to your degree. In both cases, if the unit you failed is a prerequisite or a core, you will have to repeat it. 

Unfortunately, not all universities have embraced this change. This is when you and your student union can save the day.

“UMSU recently launched a petition to stop fails being recorded which got over 13,500 signatures in 4 days,” Buchan said. “We hope that a result from our advocacy efforts will cause them to follow the same path as Monash and stop fails from being recorded.” And guess what? It worked. A couple of days after I talked to Buchan, UniMelb announced it had finally changed its position on WAM. 

“Now, if you have a subject where you score lower than your current WAM, this subject will not count towards your final WAM,” Buchan said in a video update to students. “This means if you fail a class this semester, it will not be calculated in your WAM.”

My mental health has really taken a hit in isolation, who can I reach out to?

All universities in Australia offer counselling and psychological services, appointments are free and completely confidential. At UNSW, students have been taking part in online yoga sessions to help switch off after class, Risoldi said. Other online classes include meditation, paint and sip classes, and stretch workshops. For students who want to speak to a professional, the university’s Counselling and Psychological Services is offering telehealth consults.

The bottom line is, you are absolutely not alone. If you’re unhappy, angry, unmotivated, feeling alone, helpless, if your uni life is starting to resemble a big black hole, your student union will do their best to help you.

“I speak on behalf of the MSA, but I’m sure most student unions would agree that we want to know if something isn’t right,” McDonald said. “If you feel like we’re not doing enough, tell us so we can actually make an impact. Please reach out.”