In August of last year, I wrote my first article. I didn’t know where I was going when I first started writing- I had never really written something personal before which was designed to be read by other people. It was the day after my brother had just had his A-Level results back and was dropped from Manchester University because he hadn’t reached his target grades. It was also the day I realised I probably wasn’t going to be going on my year abroad.
I chose my degree mid-way through an art foundation course. I had applied to study 3D design at Glasgow and had just received an offer for an interview. For the last three years, I had dipped in and out of interests, never feeling able to commit to one subject. The pressure was on from school to think about what was next for me, and spending a year studying art with my friends, which would ensure I got into the best art schools, seemed like the route I was going to take. It took two months for me to realise that this is not where I should be.
I missed reading, and writing; I wanted to talk to other people who were also interested in these things. I didn’t feel as though I fit in on my art foundation – I never felt that my art was good enough, and I just couldn’t see where I could go with it. The criticism and judgement from my tutors were shattering and I wanted to be somewhere where I felt encouraged, inspired and confident. I started researching English Literature courses and knew that I wanted to study a language alongside it. I felt drawn to French: we had spent summer holidays there, my grandad had spent a lot of his life there, and I was fascinated by the culture and lifestyle. France seemed to be the epicentre of art and literature and film.
I started studying English Literature and French in 2018, and I was already fantasising about my third year, which I would spend abroad. I dreamt of hot sunshine and delicious food, making friends and exploring new cities. It glistened on the horizon of every rainy day in Cardiff. Whenever I felt that I was stuck, lost, or unmotivated, I thought about that year. However, within months, the plans I had carefully curated over the last few years had disintegrated in front of my eyes – and hundreds of others were in the same boat.
I decided to defer my year abroad until January 2021, and spend the autumn in Cardiff. There were so many u-turns over international travel policy that I couldn’t keep up. I worried about getting sick abroad, or my family getting sick back home. There were already hundreds of hoops to jump through in order to complete my placement, and Covid added another thousand. The year I had imagined, teaching in a primary school, visiting museums and galleries and bars and restaurants and meeting friends, could no longer exist. I felt grief for something which had never happened.
I was supposed to start my placement yesterday, in early January. I decided to give up my placement when there was no clarity on Brexit and the situation with Covid worsened. I couldn’t imagine myself enjoying my year abroad anymore. Yesterday, when Boris Johnson announced the new restrictions, there was no mention of university students, let alone university students who were supposed to be on their year abroad. We were told to come back to university in September and greeted with online courses and a periodically open library. Now, we are told not to come back whilst we pay rent and full fees. The government are failing university students, and they have been for months now. We are wading through water which keeps pulling us under.
The resilience which students have shown over the last year has been overwhelming. Emails are received to tell us that the pandemic will not be taken into account when grading work. We give up opportunities whilst the prime minister ignores us. We are blamed for the spread of Covid-19 and charged £9250 for the privilege. We are in exam season, and deadlines loom.
I’m lucky because France isn’t going anywhere. And even though I haven’t found the encouragement and inspiration and confidence I wanted from my degree, I found it elsewhere. However, I reread the article I wrote in August this afternoon, and it is infuriating how much things haven’t changed but worsened. Now is the time to speak up, and to ask the prime minister what is going to be put in place to support university students. We are paying for better, and we deserve better.