Today I handed in my final essay, signalling the end of my first year at university. A year I will not forget, though there is little to remember. A time which was meant to be one of the best moments of my life, learning new things and meeting new people from all over the UK and beyond, turned out to be countless hours staring into lifeless pixels and switched off cameras.
It is safe to say that this year has been nothing but appalling for most university students. While it is understandable that during lockdown universities were forced to remain closed in line with government guidance and for the safety of their students, the reality was that it was an excellent opportunity for faculties to cut costs.
Whether locking down schools and universities alongside the rest of the economy was the right choice is not the issue at hand, what matters is the number of people that have paid for a service which was in some cases denied to them even when the university was legally allowed to perform said service.
My university year was delayed, in part due to a cyberattack but mostly due to Covid-19. So, while most of my friends began the dreaded cycle of video lecture, Zoom, repeat, I remained bored and without any form of work whatsoever. Furthermore, I was still being charged for this time, so my money was being effectively spent on nothing.
Fortunately, I lived at home last year, so was spared the excessively high rent prices. But for my coursemates, high-priced rent and lack of facilities meant cash was burned for nothing. Students were threatened with expulsion from their own rented accommodation and even from university if they left their building. Students were essentially made prisoners in their own homes.
I naively assumed that the average introductory sessions would become more engaging and more entertaining as we learned more. Instead, an evident lack of energy from all parties involved dragged on for weeks on end, and the number of seminar participants began to drop exponentially. Despite the university at this point being legally allowed to accept students in a limited capacity, for example, by holding classes one week in person and one week virtually, it did not. This made the £9250 cost feel even worse value.
While I and many others remained frustratingly relegated to the digital learning experience, the university was able to cut costs en masse. As a consequence, one might expect some form of return on lost services, or some form of rent return. Of course, there has been no such compensation.
Although this is my personal experience, my situation is not unique. Optimism that we would be able to return after our Easter break was misled. Instead, Easter was extended in the name of “safety” (aka cost-cutting), so not only were holidays extended but terms were shortened. Seminar numbers were down and, ultimately, the learning felt stale.
At least my first round of essays had the due dates extended, which meant I could procrastinate longer without the fear of impending work hanging over my head. I do not blame the teaching staff, who for the most part I felt had honest sympathy and shared frustration with students over the inability to interact properly. I, myself have only been able to meet a few of my fellow students and that was in summer during the first loosening of restrictions. Following this, I haven’t seen any in person.
So, to recap the university “experience” for the First Years of 2020/21: delayed starts, no in person teaching (except for lucky students who required practical teaching), shortened terms and extended holidays. Lack of services, and in some cases nigh-on imprisonment in their own homes. No money in compensation, and no return in fees. The university on the other hand got one year of cost-cutting for little effort. In short, I would say that university has been nothing short of a complete and total rip-off.