Daylight Robbery: The £9,250 Education Delivered via Zoom | Anna McGovern

Thousands of pounds in debt, and a £9,250-a-year education delivered in an isolated room via Zoom. Is this the education we paid for?

For the past four years, students have been put through mass disruption, formidable hysteria and total uncertainty towards a world-class education they are supposed to be receiving. It is estimated that over a million students at university were affected by the higher education strikes_not to mention the many hours of missed lecture and seminar sessions that they will never get back. Now that COVID-19 has caused a fundamental, systematic change in the delivery of our education, and universities continue to refuse to deliver the full in-person teaching that we are paying for, it is time to pose the question: are we really getting our money’s worth? Absolutely not.

On 13 March 2020, Universities UK declared that the deliverance of teaching by university bodies were expected to change, and measures being enacted composed of: the encouragement of students and staff to work from home, and a transition to a full online delivery of university education. Given the catastrophic state of coronavirus during this period, it was reasonable to expect a reconstruction in the traditional structure of our university education — but many obstacles and barriers were ill-accounted for, leaving university students across the UK unreservedly failed. 

Now COVID-19 restrictions have come to an end, there is categorically no justification in maintaining any form of online or “blended learning” approach across the whole student body. It is time for us to receive the education we are paying for. 

At the initial toying of a “herd immunity” strategy, with Boris Johnson entertaining the possibility of allowing the disease to “move through the population,” that was swiftly scarpered and replaced with a full national lockdown. The Government was truly unprepared for a global pandemic on this scale, and the effect that it had on the population was astronomical. 

The disparity of class divide was made all too potent with those from disadvantaged backgrounds facing significant barriers in the face of a national lockdown. It is estimated that 9% of families in the UK do not have a laptop, desktop or tablet at home. With all the obstacles faced with lockdown, at least the majority of students were able to access work through online resources or Zoom tutorials which, despite the flaws, is something we take for granted. This was, and continues to be an unobtainable luxury for those who cannot afford it. Despite the Government’s promise in April 2020 of an £100 million package to fund laptops and 4G wireless routers for vulnerable and disadvantaged students being extremely welcomed, this only targeted and benefited a very small percentile of primary and secondary school students, not even taking the needs of the underprivileged university students into consideration. 

Furthermore, with students still subject to an online education, they face a lack of access to their university facilities which they nevertheless continue to pay for with their tuition fees. Although impacting all students, the significance of this cannot be overlooked from those studying courses with a practical element attached to them, such as creative arts and lab-based work. How are students expected to produce pieces of work to the same standard as being on campus, if they are still unable to have full access to their campus facilities? This expectation is outrageous. Students have also faced paying for university accommodation they are not staying in, thus seen their income fall as they face being put on unpaid leave, reduced hours at work, furlough or even made redundant. Zamzam Ibrahim, former President of the NUS, put this exceptionally well: “The immediate concern is knowing that a lot of students have experienced a huge loss of income. We know that students do not have access to universal credit like most of society do, so when they come out of pocket, they do not have access to any form of state benefits.” With 49% of students reporting that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impeded upon their financial situation, they are essentially being left to fend for themselves. 

Alongside limited access to university facilities and practical struggles as a result of COVID-19, 74% of students reported that COVID-19 placed a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing at university. A survey conducted by WONKE and Trendence found that the number of students reporting feeling lonely on a daily or weekly basis, and not identifying themselves as a part of their university community, has risen up to 50%. We students are being faced with a huge injustice, which is not set to change anytime soon.

An anonymous academic representing a London university indicated that, by reducing the number of staff and moving forwards a longer-term shift in maintaining online lectures, financial savings would be a key benefit for the universities. Despite the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, 20 out of 24 Russell Group universities refuse to put an end to online lessons — yet we, university students, are paying the exact same fees as if our university experience has not changed. I cannot reiterate enough: this is wrong, and those responsible for this mess should be ashamed.

Over half a million students have called for a reimbursement of their tuition fees due to mass strikes and COVID-19 impeding upon their education. With a haphazard education in force, limited access to facilities, further inequality for disadvantaged students and mental health on the rise, I ask again — is this the education we paid for?

If I wanted an online experience of education, I would have signed up for an Open University degree. 

Photo Credit.

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