If the government wants me to stagger my return to uni, it can pay my rent first

You want me to stay put? Then pay up

Students at UK unis will be asked to stay home after Christmas and continue their studies online at the start of the new year as part of a staggered return to uni, with some students expected to return to their uni homes as late as 7th February. This is in the name of stopping the spread, or in other words, not letting the government cock up the return to university as badly as it did in September. And whilst we can all see the necessity of minimising the risk of Covid transmission, I’m just going to be straight with you: The government is actually taking the piss now.

Because here’s the joke of it all. We’re still expected to be paying rent. We’re still expected to be paying for something that entices us to return to the campus like a pot of gold at the end of a really shit rainbow. We’re expected to stay at home and meander our way back to the uni houses we’re paying thousands of pounds to live in because once again the government has confirmed that all it sees when it looks at students is money bags and liabilities.

So have it this way. The government wants us to stay put and stagger back our return to uni? Fine. But pay our rent first.

Because the reality of this staggered returning system is, no one’s going to follow it. Students have been circumventing the rules, from the inane and unrealistic to the serious, for months now. If there’s a student in London who’s paying a tidy £500 for their house up in Newcastle they’re not going to wait two extra months with mum and dad before they trek it back up north while their house gathers dust, are they? No. They’re going to go back when they want. Because who’s stopping them, really?

Firstly, students are going to do what is best for their mental health

Student life these days is a constant balancing act of stressing over your degree and becoming increasingly anxious about Covid. We’ve experienced every form of anxiety this term: Freshers isolating in halls with people they’ve known for less than a month, the fear of not knowing if we could go home for Christmas, the constant dread of not knowing whether you’re in the right place for a national lockdown.

And we’ve had next to no support. King’s students have to wait for up to a month for mental health counselling services and a student at Newcastle Uni who left his halls because of his mental health was told to drop out of uni if he wanted to stop paying rent. Certain universities have spent more on security than feeding their self-isolating students. It is a mess.

By this point, after strikes, after losing half of the last academic year and coming into this one with mass amounts of stress, anxiety and dread, students are going to do what is best for their mental health. With the little freedom we have on campus at the moment, if that tiny bit of normality is better for our wellbeing than being isolated away from it, then we are going to move back.

We will still be paying rent, so if returning to uni makes living slightly easier, we will go. They forced us back the first time by insisting on keeping universities open and learning “blended” for as long as possible. This time around, they’re closing our homes and asking us to pay for it.

We’re being asked to pay for the government’s mistakes

The government fucked up the first time around, there’s no doubting that. We were all told it was safe to go back to uni, and there was a rise in cases. Wow, who could have foreseen that?

Obviously, the staggered return is the government trying to learn from its past mistakes – and we’re going to place the majority of our maintenance loans into paying for it. We’ve been paying for the government’s mistakes for the past term. In fact, for the past two years if you take into account strikes. We are cash cows, and the government is expecting to see the biggest UK rent strike in 40 years because we’re finally sticking up for ourselves.

The one thing uni accommodation has given students this year is housemates and an inch of freedom. Being able to return to uni at the start of the term we are paying for is really the bare minimum of being a student. If we want to go back, without an incentive to stay put, we will take that freedom into our own hands.

The entire staggered process shifts fear and blame onto students again. You could go back, but if you do, it could be policed. Is there going to be security outside our halls? Are they going to fence us out of our accommodation this time, instead of inside it?

We’re paying for everything we’re not getting

UK students have been the easy scapegoat for the government this year. It’s like we signed a contract this year to not only follow the government’s bizarre and constantly changing Covid regulations, but to also take responsibility for all the rising cases too. I’m not asking for a 9pm clap. I’m not even asking for my nine grand back. I just want someone to pay for the rent that is being purposefully taking away from students by forcing us to live elsewhere.

And on that nine grand: We’re still paying the same tuition for a uni experience we didn’t sign up for. We’re paying the same amount as a 2016 student who had easily and full access to on campus facilities, in-person classes, and the ability to study wherever whenever they like. We haven’t received anything for the shit the government has thrown at us this term. Now, it has the opportunity. If you want us to do it, give us something back. Give us our rent. We don’t want to contribute to a rise in cases, but we’re sick of literally paying for it.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Adults’ response to student mental health shows how out of touch they are

• Going home is not a magic fix for every university student. Stop treating it like one

• Fencing put up around UoM halls as security increased due to national lockdown