OPINION: Cut university students some slack – they’ve been let down on all sides

No student would want to start university life miles from home with debts building up unable to make

No student would want to start university life miles from home with debts building up unable to make new friends and restricted to online lectures, says Rachel Moore. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It’s supposed to be the best time of their lives, but it has become the worst

Paying well over the odds for a substandard service gets everyone’s hackles up. Ropey disappointing service and poor value for an experience you’ve been charged through the nose for always leaves a bad taste.

Even more so when you ask for a discount to acknowledge the less-than-promised service delivered and are refused. Who would not be right royally fed up and want to let off steam?

Imagine being on the receiving end of third-class full price delivery when you’ve had no choice, and have had to borrow nearly £10,000 for this year’s ‘service’, plus up to another £8,000 on top to facilitate using it, and will end up paying this back three or four-fold for years to come.

Then imagine you’ve been lured to the service but once you got there, you ended up in isolation, with people you don’t know or get on with, unable to escape.

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This ‘privilege’ you are paying for was supposed to be an investment in your future, to put you at an advantage in the jobs market for your dream career, but, instead, the chances of that career are shrivelling before your eyes.

And, if and when you finally achieve to get into the career you have been working hard for, you will not only be paying back the money for this shoddy service, you’ll also be footing the bill to prop the country up for the rest of your working days for the worst recession in the country for centuries.

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Roll all this into the scenario that this is the first time you’ve been away from home, looking forward to a meeting new people, having new experiences, learning new skills, joining societies to meet like-minded people, enjoying new activities, sports, night-life and a full young adult life.

Instead, you’re in tiny room in a new city costing you £7,000 a year, logging on to a handful of Zoom calls with lecturers you’ve never met with people you should be sitting with in a lecture theatre or a seminar with but have never met.

You’ve been told to stay away from campus, studying and living in your tiny room away from those you love and, if it’s your first year, with strangers who you might not get on with.

It’s the loneliest time in your life, and the most expensive. Miserable, your cash calculator ticking away, you’re then lampooned on social media and in the media for being Covid “super spreaders” and irresponsible idiots.

Yup, today I’m speaking up for students and the pup they’ve been sold to keep our universities, student property owners and private landlords afloat this year.

And for the parents at home worried sick about the potentially disastrous effects of their children spending so much time on their own getting a shockingly raw deal for the debts they are racking up.

This week, magistrates threw the book at three female University of East Anglia students who hosted a house party. Fining them £10,000 each made them an example and broadcast a message to other students.

They were stupid and thoughtless. Young people are.

No excuse, but universities welcomed back these students (and their £9,000-£9250 a year tuition fees) with wide open arms.

The UEA says it will take disciplinary action against them.

“Throw them off the course,” shouted the flog’em social media brigade.

But UEA would then lose more than £27,000 in tuition fees this year.

And that’s the point. Students are being hung out to dry because the universities had to ‘open’ to stay afloat and the economic impact on student landlords up and down the UK would have been catastrophic.

So, instead the students pay the price in every way.

In Norwich, the UEA and Norwich University of the Arts have about 18,000 students. In Ipswich, at the University of Suffolk, about 5,000.

In Norwich alone, that amounts to about 18,000 students, which is about £166,500,000 in tuition fees. Add to that figure the annual rent to the university and private landlords and the potential economic loss is eye-watering.

Each student is a unit of currency to universities, property owners and the cities they choose to study in.

But is four hours a week (that’s the equivalent of 9am to 1pm on a Monday at work) online tuition fair recompense for a fourth and final year degree student’s £9,250?

No wonder they, and their parents, are furious.

There needs to be a national campaign calling out the shoddy experience our young people are paying for.

It might be seen as a luxury to immerse yourself in a subject you’re passionate about with other people doing the same, but they are paying handsomely for that ‘luxury.’

Paying, unlike those angry baby boomers who benefitted from free education, final salary pensions, cheap mortgages and countless other benefits.

The future for these young people is bleak. Cut them some slack for discovering the hard way that promises rarely turn out to be reality.

Friends tell tales about uncommunicative universities who don’t answer student emails, are not interacting or offering basic support. Staff are still being paid to do their jobs.

So rather than condemning, we should be supporting their disappointment and help them to reclaim at least some of their annual tuition fees.

Are they really the selfish ones when they will be paying for this for their entire working life?

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