I’m sure the feeling is universal. All of us lucky students are so thankful to the Government. Times have been hard, lockdown has been painful, but the Government has been a stalwart of support. The one we all hoped for when we entered the voting booths for the first time. Naturally, it is safe to assume that all of us students voted for the Conservative legend that is Boris Johnson. Nowhere in the UK will you find a place more right-wing minded than a prosperous university. And this pandemic has given us all the justification we needed. In our hour of need, the Government realised how precarious a position we students were in and leapt to our aid. Like the mother bear surges to the defence of her cub, the Government has saved us from the harm of an isolating and debilitating pandemic.
We must be grateful to those leading our country. Across both benches we have seen a unified response to help us students. The first move of brilliance, which forced universities to make mental health support more readily available to students, was superb. Here the Government illustrated how it listened and, despite the din of the pandemic, had an ear to the ground for every member of society. Their next move, cutting university fees by a third, was inspired. All fee-paying students felt relieved that the hardship of an online year would be balanced by a Government that finally cares about the young. Where Nick Clegg had buckled into allowing a student loan increase and Tony Blair has conspired to introduce student loans, this Government has bucked the trend and finally supported those who are easily forgotten. The rag doll of British politics has finally become a Barbie, well-cared for and with its hair lovingly combed.
But wait. That’s all codswallop. Obviously most students didn’t vote for this Government and even more obviously we have had precious little support. There is in fact little doubt that we have all been left out in the cold. Except ‘left out in the cold’ is perhaps too tame a description. The last year has, at times, felt like being abandoned in an Arctic blizzard, with only a vest for a jacket. The Government has most nobly taken up the role of Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Simply put, it has gone outside and has been gone for sometime.
Nothing encapsulates this complete lack of care more than one of the latest decisions regarding us lucky students. We were allowed to return to university for partial in-person teaching from 17th May. How kind. We at Edinburgh had already finished our teaching and those in England had less than a month left. Some in the Government or the Opposition may claim this move is considerate towards our needs. In reality it is a throwaway decision. They have thrown us a bone but only after allowing our teeth to fall out over the last year, so what’s the point?
It is entirely obvious that the ire of many students would abate if we were given partial refunds of our student loans. But this may be the responsibility of Universities and not ‘our’ Government. The Government says it is unable to introduce a universal refund policy for fee-paying students. Except it is. Of course it is. So a unilateral decision that gives back students at least a partial refund is not out of the question.
We have been locked up in our halls and fed wartime rations, teaching was suspended and placed entirely online, another graduation was cancelled. All without action from the democratically elected. Clearly they must have a different definition of democracy: the people are serving those in power, instead of those in power serving the people.
If one was to analyse the student loans system, we are effectively paying for a service, just with a flexible system of repayment. But we are still paying. Legally, if one pays for a service and it is not fulfilled, then that person should have the right to a refund. That is perhaps one of our society’s simplest laws. But forget laws; morally, a person or organisation should offer a refund to someone when they have not fulfilled their task. You don’t pay a builder their entire fee when they’ve failed to put the roof on your house. One cannot help but wonder how older generations would feel if they were in this position.
We young people have been voted against in a system that already leaves us isolated. Taxes do not give us a break, threatening to make us suffer during both our youth and pensioner years, the opposite to those older than us. It is increasingly difficult to find employment and, if we do, buying a house is even harder. This is a financial system that is stacked so heavily against our generation.
We students are being served quite the cake by those above us. And the cherry on top is that the University, our University, made £48 million of profit last year. So perhaps I should alter the metaphor of students being left out in the cold. We are in the cold, still without a jacket (and no teeth), but now those who are meant to help us are being paid to watch it happen. Never has it been more obvious that our generation is a victim to those above us.
Image: Kevin McGuire via Flickr