Undergrads, underfire

While I sit out a two week period of Track and Trace enforced lockdown, I’ve set myself a challenge to write a daily article of exactly 500 words in less than an hour about a different subject each day. Today, I’m looking at the way students are scapegoated, with an actual real-life student (albeit in FE, not HE) with her perspective on how our students (and young people in general) are being treated shoddily right now.

While reading Peter Ackroyd’s epic and revelatory History of England, which charts the idea of our country from the first visiting hominids through to the rise of the Tudors, we visit Oxford in 1354, where the University was thriving. Students, refreshed from a trip to the pub turned violent leading to a pitched battle between locals and the undergrads; University hierarchy pitched in with weapons. Violence ensued for days, with many deaths: eventually the superior numbers of townsfolk overwhelmed the scholars and staff; for a few years the University lay empty. The concept of Town And Gown bloodily began.

It’s much less violent these days, yet tensions do arise. The transitory nature of undergrads means shared houses are often left unkempt, and the nocturnal habits of those studying can keep awake those who prefer an early night. Beeston, and it’s proximity to the University doesn’t escape such friction, yet it’s generally regarded as a small price compared to the vast benefits that having a campus for a neighbour bestows.

The annual influx of thousands of young people into the area has benefits. Beeston floats on money students / staff bring, keeping our High Street healthier than it should be (I grew up in Stapleford, which doesn’t bask in proximity: the town has suffered greatly over the years). It provides work, filling the the gap left by the shut-down of local heavy industry It brings relationships: the town is kept diverse and vibrant with new people setting up home here. It also brings love, to which i can personally attest: my wife ventured here to do a PhD and settled. It’s a morphing, fascinating situation.

It seems almost inevitable that Nottingham will go into enhanced lockdown in days. Beeston’s contiguity to Nottingham via the campus means it’s likely we will be included. Some people haven’t taken this well, and on social media some commentators are accusing students of being a collective Typhoid Mary. They bought the disease from elsewhere, goes the argument, spreading it to our innocent locals with abandon. 

It’s a shitty way of looking at the situation, but people need to blame and scapegoat. Students, who are often described as a homogeneous mass rather than a huge swathe of society, are painted as outsiders, aliens to repel. 

The reality is this years cohort of students have been incredibly poorly treated. They were messed around through their A-Levels through the sheer incompetence of Gavin Williamson. They then faced huge uncertainty about being able to study at all, if it would be online or in person, if they could have anything approaching a social life once at Uni. I’ve asked – with permission – to use a post put on a college chat from a local student I taught last year, which sums up the frustration felt by many young people.

We are fast changing into a knowledge economy, and Beeston is in an ideal place to thrive as that happens. Let’s stop blaming, start welcoming and celebrate our cerebral neighbours. It’s a no-brainer.


A college student’s view:

I think we’re at a time where we will be able to vote in a few years if not already, the country have done us so dirty. I know for me personally I won’t forget how this government have treated young people, we were forgotten, blamed, downgraded (A- level and GCSE results leading in protests) and so much more. We were the ones who helped and became key workers to keep the country moving and we were then robbed of so much. University grads never got a proper celebration. Students were encouraged to go to university and not just stay at home, they were promised that university would not be just online.

They did this to force students into student accommodation so that they could line their pockets and forced young people into debt. Now we are seeing students quarantined in tiny apartments all by themselves, with the bare minimum, and paying ridiculous fees for unacceptable lessons/video chats and accommodation. The arts have sacrificed so much, and now Rushi Sunak “suggests” musicians and creatives should “find new jobs”.

No. I’m sorry. I won’t be forgetting. I definitely don’t think we are to blame, not one bit, as long as you followed Government guidelines none of us are to blame! We should be pointing the finger and holding the government accountable for their poor decision-making (too little too late!) Ever since Cummings went to test his eyesight all the way to Durham I agree everyone took that as a green light to not take lockdown seriously, and why should they?  It has always been one rule for them( the elitists and wealthy/powerful) and another for us!

Meagan Hutchinson, 2nd year Media Student.