Throughout the course of this pandemic, young people have been regularly scapegoated for rising coronavirus cases and supposedly not taking the pandemic seriously enough. I reject these claims made by many and would conversely argue that young people have been neglected and left behind by those in Westminster.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, young people have been criticised by the government – the same government whose messages were muddled and whose response policies were ineffective and often counterproductive. Last Autumn, as coronavirus cases were on the rise, then Health Secretary Matt Hancock scolded young people, telling them: ‘Don’t kill your gran by spreading coronavirus’. Whilst on the face of it this seems entirely reasonable, this was an example of the government passing the blame for its own incompetence. Let us not forget that it was only a few months earlier that the government were encouraging the young to go out and get the economy moving again by taking advantage of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme which increased mixing between households and increased Coronavirus cases as high as 17%.
As a university student living in Bristol, I am aware that some young people have violated lockdown restrictions and unlawfully held house parties and gatherings. However, it is important to remember that this is only a minority. A YouGov survey found that 70% of 18-24 year olds actually want the pandemic to be taken more seriously, and most young people have followed the rules throughout this year and a half.
Everyone has been affected by the pandemic in different ways, but university students have been significantly ignored. Last year, I had less than 10 hours a week of tuition, none of which was in person, with many of the university buildings and study spaces being restricted to hour long slots only. For my upcoming final year, Bristol have stated that they’re going to take a blended approach, with online lectured and in-person seminars. This is not just restricted to my university too, with many other higher education institutions such as the University of Manchester and the University of Leeds adopting similar stances.
Whilst an improvement on last year, it seems unfair that universities are not completely committing to in person teaching considering I can legally go to a nightclub or a pub without having to abide by social distancing regulations or wear a mask indoors. Paying the full tuition fee of £9250 for a substandard university experience seems wrong; the university experience simply isn’t the same. Going to university currently is not value for money. Seemingly, the contact hours with teachers have decreased whilst the revenue accrued by Student Finance England has increased.
I am not naïve, and do not expect or even believe that students should get a full refund for the academic year. However, a reasonable reduction in students’ tuition fees seems fair considering we were promised a standard of teaching we never actually received. Last year, online lectures often times felt rushed and cobbled together, with poor audio quality and shoddy WiFi connections from the academic staff. If students wanted online learning, we would have gone to the Open University, which charges substantially lower fees and has courses made specifically for remote learning.
Lastly, it is important to stress that a lack of support for young people during this pandemic is not restricted to university students. From the A-level grading fiasco to not being able to travel abroad due to not being double jabbed, young people have suffered throughout this period. Until the government start prioritising young people by thinking about the next generation, the young will continue to feel neglected and abandoned.