At The Student, we want to use our platform for positive and impactful change. Whilst sometimes it feels as though our voices are simply echoed back to us, lost amidst the chaos of university life, we do have a voice; people will listen if we give them something to talk about.
For our third print edition, we want to focus on the ongoing cost of living crisis and how it is undoubtedly affecting students. These issues, as well as their solutions, stem much deeper than having to get your pesto fix at Lidl instead of Waitrose, or skipping a night out for a cozy movie night in with the ‘gals’.
The reality is much more bleak, but I feel we need to state on record what many students are facing now and in the coming months.
Many of us will go hungry this Winter; we will be unable to afford food, unable to afford gas to heat this food, and more of us will be driven to foodbanks. We have already seen this at Northumbria University, which has opened up a food bank on-campus specifically for students.
There is no cheap alternative on offer at the University of Edinburgh; whilst Edinburgh Napier University has offered all students a free breakfast on-campus every day to combat the cost of living, our university has offered us nothing.
The university might tell us, like students at Bristol University have been told, to spend more time in the library than at our flats – but what good will that be when we face national blackouts, and we can’t even turn to the university for help?
The soaring cost in energy bills will mean that many of us will go without heating. We’ve all heard about choosing whether to ‘heat or eat’; this isn’t just a slogan or an exaggeration, this is what life is going to be like for many.
A large proportion of students here in Edinburgh live in old tenement buildings which require a lot of energy to heat; this will be simply unaffordable for many. This doesn’t just impact central heating, but also includes heating water for showers (although it’s worth pointing out here that the university has showers on-campus that students can use).
The university has a means-tested Discretionary Fund for UK students and a Hardship Fund for International students; both have seen an increase in the amount given to pay for bills and rent, as a direct result of the cost of living crisis, but this application process requires so much mental energy and time that many students simply do not have.
When faced with living conditions out of our control, the last thing anyone wants to be doing is to fill out form after form after form.
We need a response from the university that will impact all students. And something that will actually help; not budgeting tips, or therapy llamas.
A source of free food on-campus, food vouchers, an energy bill payment, a rent freeze or waive for university-owned accommodation, more support for students renting with a landlord or agency, a mental health service that is functioning and accessible to all, more compassion when it comes to assignments and exams. I could go on.
The University of Edinburgh recorded a surplus of £214 million in the academic year 2020/2021; if we can afford to pay the Principal’s £17,910 energy bill for the year, why can’t we afford to support students who are desperately in need?
This crisis has been spiraling out of control for much longer than our time at university so far this academic year.
Make no mistake, the chaos we now find ourselves in is as a direct result of the last twelve years of austerity, greed, and brutality brought on by the Conservative government. People across the country will die this winter as a result of their policies. This is not a far-off statement, this is the reality for many in the UK, in Scotland, and in our student community.
And the truth is – the vast majority of people reading this will not be affected, at least not in the way I have just described. We all feel it to some extent; the price of a meal deal has gone up, a pint of Tennents costs a bit more than it used to.
But let us not forget that the University of Edinburgh is the third most elite university in the whole of the UK. Over 50 per cent of students here come from the wealthiest backgrounds. Whilst this alone is incredulous and in need of dire addressal from the university, it inevitably means that many students simply will not have been exposed to this very real and brutal reality.
For those of us at the University of Edinburgh who are working class or have been identified by the university as Widening Participation, this ignorance feels intentional.
You are ignoring us, you are ignoring the struggles that we have faced to get here, and you are ignoring just how horrific these next few months will inevitably become.
But the Cost of Living Crisis affects us all, whether you like it or not. Students cannot and should not be separated by a wealth divide; we need to rally together and support each other, we need to protect those most in danger and highlight the vast injustices done to them by this university.
Whilst many of our readers will not feel the true sting of the cost of living crisis, we all have a duty to make ourselves and each other aware of this incredulous divide both in our university and more generally in British society.
We hope you learn something from this edition. We hope you can take a step back, acknowledge privilege where it prevails, and begin to call out institutions that fail to look after the people who rely on them.
Image “University of Edinburgh: New College” by Jorge Franganillo is licensed under CC BY 2.0.