Amy Brennan discusses how the pandemic has impacted students, the response of universities, and reflects upon the #9k4what protests.
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused disruption to every aspect of life as we know it. Between nationwide lockdowns, mask-wearing, and social distancing, nothing is the same; likely nor will it ever be again. Through all of this the government’s response has been lacklustre and, to quote Christine Berry, ‘dysfunctional’ – especially when it comes to students.
Throughout the reams of guidance being offered by the government across the pandemic, it seems that students have been continually the last to know. Unlike those in school who are included – for good reason – in the Prime Minister’s press conferences and government guidance, university students are continually omitted from such updates and must wait for up to a week later than the rest of the nation to find out what it is that they should do, leaving us with the sense that our education and our wellbeing is valued below that of everyone else.
Student mental health is at an all-time low. After many complaints about the difficulties of getting access to mental health services, universities seem to have improved their counselling services, however the pandemic exposed urgent holes in mental health infrastructure. No improvements, however useful, can undo the fact that through September and the beginning of October, one university student a week across the country tragically took their own life (The Tab, 2020). Better and more accessible help should have been available for students – especially those experiencing lockdowns in a new place with new people feeling completely isolated and unable to socialise.
Housing has been another source of huge stress for students. For the majority already on a tight budget, being forced to pay for accommodation that they legally cannot occupy was devastating. In Manchester, it took students occupying Owens Park Tower and a Rent Strike for the University to offer rent support and rebates for the months that accommodation went unoccupied. For students not in their first year, most of whom rent houses privately, there has been no support from universities, or the government and they continued to pay hundreds of pounds a month for accommodation and utilities that they could no longer use under lockdown restrictions.
The ‘#9k4what’ movement has gained great prevalence in the past few months as students protest the fact that they are required to pay £9,250 per year for university in the ‘Covid-19 era’ when the services that they pay for are certainly no longer being offered. Many have been told by their universities that this money helps to keep universities universities running and pays for things like heating and electricity in lecture theatres however limited library spaces, poor pastoral services and learning over zoom have surely allowed them to make some savings which could be offered back to students. In most cases, ‘non-essential’ students have been forced to work from the discomfort of student houses with very strained wifi and are being told that they receive the same services and support that they would get without the deadly pandemic. Ultimately, students are paying customers. Everyone else missing out on services that they pay for due to the pandemic has been offered some kind of financial support by the government, so why haven’t students?
Amy is a second year Politics and International Relations student interested in international security and the political economy.