When is the government going to start caring about uni students?

We’ve been constantly overlooked

When I was watching Boris Johnson’s daily coronavirus news updates, I listened out for news relevant to me. I listened to him announce measures for schools, hospitals, and cinemas. I listened to him give advice on exercising and going to the supermarket. I very quickly gave up with watching them, because he had forgotten me.

University students have been massively ignored and overlooked throughout the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic, from when it was simply an uncertain future, to now, when we’re in full-on lockdown. Universities UK links to government information pages, but all of them talk about “education settings”. Not one of them is specific to universities, or to students. We have no guidance whatsoever, and what we do have is unclear.

In lockdown, we’re told not to leave the house, apart from “essential travel”. But, uni students have two houses. Which do we stay inside? Just the one we happened to be in when lockdown began? Many of us are now stuck in our university houses, unable to be with our families during this stressful and uncertain time. Are we allowed to leave uni and go back home? Who knows, because the government hasn’t told us.

Look, university students are, on the whole, a very lucky and privileged group of people. We’re getting degrees, and many unis, including Edinburgh, Liverpool, and Southampton, now have safety net or “no detriment” policies, so our grades won’t be negatively affected by the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s not like we’ve lost our full-time jobs, or are being forced to work in dangerous conditions – our uni work can be done from the comfort of our beds.

Equally, although our grades won’t get any worse, many of us will now struggle to improve our degree result. The unknown threat of coronavirus is causing a rise in anxiety levels, and people just don’t have the time or energy to put into improving their uni work if they or their family members are ill.

Many universities also haven’t yet given their students these “no detriment” policies, with petitions for them at unis like King’s and Leeds. Oxford Brookes have outright said they won’t be adopting the safety net policy. The government hasn’t said anything or implemented a blanket approach, so it’s up to individual unis to decide what to do. The unequal treatment for different students across the country is unfair – will this mean some degrees from the Class of 2020 are worth less than others?

While many of us have laptops and are used to doing uni work from our bedrooms, others don’t have a home environment that lets us produce good quality work, or access to the technology to be able to do so. Campuses are now closed, so how are we meant to get hold of the books and resources we need to do our work properly?

Loads of students who have moved back home will have rubbish internet, and it’s not exactly like you can set up your own uni library in Dad’s study while he’s on Skype meetings all day. York Uni have told students to “suspend their studies and take a leave of absence” if they don’t have access to a computer at home, which has been branded as “discrimination against disabled, working class and poorer students.”

People have lost part-time jobs, and most of our student loans barely cover anything. Why should we struggle to pay rent for rooms we can legally no longer live in, but our landlords and halls still insist we pay for? Many student medics and nurses are still working on placement, with reports of there being little protective equipment left to keep them safe.

My cohort of current final year students has missed a full year of teaching over the course of our degrees. We’ve endured three separate waves of UCU strikes in three years, and now universities have moved teaching and exams online due to coronavirus. Neither of these things are anyone’s fault, but we have to face the facts that students have paid over nine grand for teaching we didn’t get.

I, along with thousands of other students, will be graduating into the “biggest recession in modern history” and will find it difficult to find a secure, full-time job. Many have already had internships and grad scheme offers taken away. Those of us who are lucky enough to have jobs will find ourselves paying the government back: Repaying the loans for an education we were promised but never truly received.

Yes, many university students are lucky, but this still doesn’t mean we don’t matter or that we haven’t been disadvantaged. And by ignoring us, the government is letting us down.

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