Since March 2020, I have only had one contact hour with my university
I will graduate having done 50 per cent of my degree online and I’m still paying nearly £30k for the privilege
I want you to imagine that you have just forked out over £27,000 on a brand new top of the range Mercedes A-Class AMG Line Hatchback. A super fancy car that you can just about afford on your annum salary. However, you chose to buy this car because it came with so many features: fancy sound system, state of the art navigation system, luxury interior, sports features – the list goes on. Not only this, but the reason you felt comfortable in this decision was because you knew the car would be safely under warranty so if anything went wrong you had a fallback and you knew hadn’t just flushed £27,000 down the toilet.
Now imagine if someone took away all those high-quality facilities and that warranty so all you’re left with is the car engine. Is it worth £27,000 anymore?
Okay, so let’s swap the Mercedes A-Class AMG Line Hatchback for a university degree. Like the car, it is an incredibly fancy piece of kit that most of the people who buy into it can barely afford. However, you chose to buy this degree because it has its own features such as fancy libraries, state of the art laboratories, ‘luxury’ halls of residence, and a multitude of sports and leisure facilities, again the list goes on. Not only this, but you felt comfortable making your decision to buy into such an expensive service because you were aware that your university had substantial welfare policies so if anything went wrong you had a fallback and you hadn’t flushed £27,750 down the toilet.
Now imagine if someone took all of that away, all the high-quality features and those support policies that you so vitally need. So, all you’re left with is some lectures in your bedroom. Is it worth £27,750 anymore?
This reality is what every single university student is having to reconcile right now. However, unlike the aggrieved Mercedes driver, you can’t return to the dealer and ask for your money back. Students are just being expected to take a £27,750 hit because “there’s nothing else that can be done”.
Can you see what I’m getting at here? University students are customers to their universities and we are effectively being robbed. In any other instance, this would be pushed through a small claims court and students would be handed back their money because the degree is ‘not fit for purpose’.
So I am asking: Why are students not being given a refund? Or compensation at the very least?
I, like many other students, have been stuck in this predicament since March 2020. So I decided to add up all my face-to-face contact hours and I’ll be honest it wasn’t hard because I’ve only had one. Take a moment to process that. I have paid £9,250 to be offered one hour of voluntary non-course related face-to-face tuition and everything else I have and will continue to receive has been online and frankly substandard.
I could ramble on and explain the science of why this teaching method literally doesn’t work and certainly isn’t worth £9,250 but I’ll just keep this simple. Try sitting in front of a screen for a period of nine hours for five days a week and see how long you last. But, f you’re still interested in the many other reasons online teaching isn’t a successful mean of communication please take a look at this article on the difficulties of online seminars and this one on all the reasons the Class of 2021 deserve a no detriment policy because of academic conditions.
So all of this is already really bad and we haven’t even hit the tip of the iceberg of what students are going through right now.
I have effectively been banned from campus which means I have no access to vital course materials which are essentially the difference between me passing and failing my degree. Even if I did want to return to campus many vital facilities that I rely upon have been closed until further notice because universities are operating skeleton services at present.
And so, to try and reassure us, unis are coming out with these blanket statements about the “wealth of resources available online”. Lol, this one is really funny because it could not be further from the case for many degrees, such as mine – Classics. For a lot of this material, if it’s not in a non-digitalised book then it’s probably a figment of your imagination. What’s more, the few (and I mean microscopically few) databases and books that are available online, my university refuse to pay the subscription for.
I am stuck between the ultimate rock and hard place. My choices are all but break the law and return to university to save my degree or obey the law and accept I will hugely underperform if not fail. It’s the ultimate Catch-22 and I am not alone in this situation.
Naturally, in an attempt to resolve the situation rather than just sit around and complain, I contacted various members of my department, faculty and senior management asking what could be done. I have still not received responses to emails I sent in October and it’s now January. Department staff are telling us “you need to remember that we have lives too”, but when we are drowning and they are literally paid by us to be the lifeguard, that statement really falls short. Sure we aren’t asking you to reply to us on weekends or send an email after 7pm but the common decency to respond to an email in under four months would be greatly appreciated.
I, like every student, am paying for the privilege of being ignored, unsupported and feeling like a total failure. I took three years out of my life when I could have been out working rather than voluntarily getting myself into copious amounts of debt and really, for what? A year and a half of being isolated, miserable and dissatisfied forking out thousands on rent and fees without even thinking about living costs.
To be a university student right now is the most exhausting and thankless experience you could imagine because no matter how hard you try, you feel as though you are losing the battle on three different fronts: emotional, academic and financial.