The pandemic has affected all economic and social sectors, including higher education in Portugal. Students have been forced to change their lives through a regime never used before in Portugal. If students used to go to university, sometimes even moving to another city to undertake their studies, they now instead are locked down in their homes, in front of a computer watching online classes while trying to achieve academic success.

The start of the second semester in 2021, for university students, was marked by another lockdown that forced national universities to change their teaching regime once again. If some universities have previously adopted the mixed regime of remote and in person classes or just the face-to-face teaching, in the second semester all students will have, until otherwise decided by the government, online classes.

Universities have ended up having some independence concerning the functioning of their institution leading to different teaching occurring in various higher education institutions.

Online learning
Catarina Saraiva studies Management at the University of the Algarve. In the first semester the student had only in-person classes, however, the new state of emergency forced the second semester to start following online classes. The same happened in Coimbra, however, the decision process brought with it some controversies. Diana Fulgêncio, a student of Journalism and Communication in Coimbra, says that “the measures should have already been thought out. We were all waiting for the cases to peak and we knew that changes in education would be unavoidable". The University of Coimbra (UC) considered the exams season as the main problem, which at first was postponed to the beginning of the second semester, instead of taking place between January and February, as usual. Pressure from students led UC to keep exams at the same time, but instead to be taken online.

Face-to-face learning has previously been an integral part of many courses, especially those involving practical elements. João Neves, a biochemistry student at the University of Aveiro, admits during this semester the online programme will not affect the practical aspect of his major. On the other hand, Diana Fulgêncio points out that “course units with practical content, such as radio journalism, will lack much of its usual quality.” The student feels that while learning online she will never be able to learn how to handle a sound mixer, for example. Furthermore, certain exercises cannot be done, resulting in divergences in the acquired skills, when compared to students from previous years.

Although Diana points out that sometimes it becomes more complicated to pay attention to online classes, due to the number of distractions existing at home, Jéssica Brissos, a law student at the Instituto Superior Manuel Teixeira Gomes (ISMAT), admits that the online teaching makes “debates more organised ”, however, the amount of work increases and sometimes becomes exhausting. João Neves also points out some advantages, because online “time is not wasted with travel”, however, the physical distance from the teacher or the academic space can greatly support the pedagogy “required in higher education.”

Academic life is not just about classes and study. Like any young person, moments with friends are also important, if only to relieve the stress of tests and exams. João Neves is in the last year of his degree and since the first lockdown feels that he has been losing various social experiences. Despite trying to restrict his “social life to a group of close friends”, the student admits that a “lack of physical proximity” is something that bothers him, as the experiences do not have the same intensity.

Study abroad
Joana Carvalho decided, even before the pandemic, to participate in the Erasmus programme and spend a season studying abroad. She ended up arriving in Spain and it was at the Faculty of Communication of the Pontifical University of Salamanca that the student from Coimbra was attending. The Erasmus' experience is known for being associated with socialisation and cultural enrichment, experiences that Joana saw restricted. Despite "visits to museums and green areas" and "having made some friends", Joana felt her experience was incomplete due to the restrictions that the pandemic brought. Being in a smaller university, students could choose between attending classes online or in person. The Coimbra student was the only Erasmus student at her college, making possible socialisation difficult. Despite "many people going to parties in apartments", Joana did not feel comfortable attending, not only because of the fear of the virus but also due to the high fines that could be imposed on anyone who broke the rules imposed by the Spanish Government.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the lives of thousands of students across the country, increasing cases of mental illness, leading to some students dropping out. However, students like Catarina are feeling “positive” for what the next semester will bring, while hoping to have “face-to-face classes again in April.”