It’s not much fun being a university student at the moment, especially those of us who are studying and working part-time. I am also a key worker and have worked pretty much full-time since March with very little choice…
We’re all going through difficulties during this pandemic. Some people have been furloughed, some have lost their jobs, some have been lucky to cling on to theirs and work from home. Parents are having to homeschool, A-Level and GCSE students have had their exams cancelled this year and let’s not forget those that have sadly passed away due to Covid-19.
But during all this, there is one group that has been consistently forgotten over the last year. University students. And I am one of them.
We all understand the difficulty for lecturers having to teach at home with their young children or family there. We get it, we’re doing the same. We’re trying to complete all of our work to the same and highest standard as before the pandemic (because we have no leniency) in the same conditions. None of us, especially at my university, are blaming the lecturers themselves. They are in a bad position just like us.
No, we are mad at university managements and the government. The ones who encourage us to go into further education yet forget about us once we were there, but will happily take all of our money once we graduate and start re-paying our loans.
Working around the clock
Some of us, like myself, have taken on more responsibility at work, which has resulted in putting in more hours than we ever imagined we would during our studies. That includes us key workers, the student nurses, the carers, the parents who have a full-time job raising their kids whilst completing remote learning and their own studies. Granted, our studies should come first as we are paying to complete our degrees. However, this idea is not feasible for those of us who simply cannot afford to not work or have no other help with their children. I sometimes work a whole week doing 8-10 hour shifts a day and then go home and do my university work. There’s no break for us. I am constantly on the go and I don’t even remember the last time I had a chance to indulge in some self-care.
University students are essentially paying £9,250 a year to teach ourselves from PowerPoints at home. When we all began our studies and walked into our first lecture, we were all told to pay attention and to physically attend lectures as they would not be recorded and uploaded online due to the quality of teaching not being the same. We were all told that we wouldn’t be able to achieve high grades if we just did our lectures from home. Now look at us. We get a recorded lecture once a week (not even live for most of us, especially not me), a seminar once or twice a week that lasts an hour. That is two hours of contact time a week, if you’re lucky. Two.
And let’s not forget all of us who are completing dissertations. Especially students on courses like mine where the main part of our dissertations is carrying out our own physical research with participants. All of that research that we had planned in the summer and all the ideas we had in our head were shut down not long after submitting our dissertation forms. There are some of us students whose supervisors don’t even reply to them for weeks because there is no set deadline for them to answer us anymore. Yet we still have to hand assignments in on time!
Our main pet peeve is how much we are paying. Online university costs £3,000 a year. We have been told we won’t be getting a reduction in our course fees because we still have access to all the same resources. How does this make sense? We cannot go onto campus and on the odd occasion that we can, we are allowed to use the library but only for two hours a day. That is no where near enough time to get an adequate amount of work done, especially if we’re writing an assignment. Personally, I haven’t been on my campus since February 2020 due to the multiple strikes that occurred before we even went into our first lockdown.
Money for nothing
On top of our course fees, most of us are also paying rent in houses we don’t even live in anymore. We were made to believe that we would at least have some on campus teaching this year, this was promised to us. Because of that, most of us made plans to come back and pay extortionate amounts of rent (that some of us, like myself, are having to work incredibly hard to pay for) because we thought we’d be back on campus. I feel even worse for the international students who pay even more course fees and rent than UK ones do, are stuck in countries thousands of miles away from their families because of borders being closed and are also receiving no help whatsoever.
The government has completely neglected our feelings and stress about this situation. In August they encouraged the public to “eat out to help out” then blamed us for the rise in cases forgetting that most of us students are the ones work in hospitality and retail. Everything is blamed on us but what do they expect us to do? We have to work to pay the rent in the houses we don’t live in anymore and we can’t work from home because our jobs are mostly in the retail sector because that’s the only one that will take us before graduating.
We are killing ourselves trying to produce top grade work even though lecturers are ignoring us for weeks, we’re not being able to set up Teams or Zoom calls because of many different reasons and lecturers are getting longer than their usual 20 days to mark our work. I am grateful that they have had some stress reduction in terms of their deadlines but what about us? Where are our benchmark grades and our no detriment policies again? Because all of us are getting way lower grades than usual. We are being given more work than ever because it is just assumed that all students are inside and not doing anything (like working or fulfilling other responsibilities) and yet there is still no leniency for us. To say we are angry is an understatement.
And finally, let’s not forget about our mental and physical health. Most of us – myself included – are stuck in cities away from home and haven’t seen our family and friends for months. I myself haven’t seen my Grandad in almost a year, I have met my one-year-old niece about four times and missed her first Christmas and birthday. We are all isolated and alone with most of us not even being able to spend Christmas and New Year with our families. My birthday is the day we went into lockdown so I didn’t get to see any of my family and friends on that day. It’s my 21st birthday this year but I will be stuck in a city away from my parents, my brother, my extended family and friends. It will also mark the first anniversary of our first ever lockdown and I am already feeling utterly alone. Unfortunately, as a result of this, my depression has been the worst it ever has been. I am lucky enough to have had therapy, so I am able to work through my triggers as well as using techniques to help me in certain situations, but this is getting harder and harder to do. Many students are in similar or worse positions than this with family members passing away or becoming critically ill and they aren’t able to go home to say goodbye or grieve with their families. We all feel alone. We all feel let down by the government and our universities.
I am so angry as are all university students across the country. Our Tory government have forgotten about us whilst gladly taking our money. We are not getting graduations (the main thing we work towards), we are not getting help with money, we are not getting help with our grades. Our government have failed us, and we are all paying a horrible price for it. I want to get the degree I deserve with the grade I deserve but I fear that won’t happen, not this year at least.
Please, Mr Williamson, help us. We are the future doctors, lawyers, teachers, therapists and scientists of this country. You need us. But right now, we need you.