I knew I would face challenges at university, but I expected them to come from the workload or leaving home for the first time. When we submitted our UCAS applications, none of us could have predicted we would be attending university during a pandemic and I never envisaged that Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon would play a larger role in my Freshers Week experience than the Student Union.
The idea of uprooting my life to learn online took time to get accustomed to, but the fact that I was promised “small group in-person teaching” was crucial in my decision to travel to St Andrews. Moreover, we were told attendance was mandatory unless you had travel difficulties or a pre-existing medical condition. They forced us to be here and it astounds me that the university and our government now seem to be caught off-guard by the increasing COVID-19 cases resulting from our return to campus.
Did they not learn from watching the United States fail at containing the virus? About one-third of U.S. colleges resumed in August with some form of in-person teaching and on 25 September the New York Times reported that, since the onset of the pandemic, over 130,000 cases and 70 deaths have been linked to American colleges. It’s fairly simple, when you bring thousands of students from around the world and shove them into an enclosed environment such as university halls, a significant number COVID-19 cases will be brought in on moving day. This data became available to the British government over a month before we returned to university. So why are we, the students, being blamed?
For the past six months we’ve all been trying to acclimatise to the ‘new normal’. It’s been tough for everyone and young people are no exception. We’ve had inconsistent online-learning platforms, prom and graduation events cancelled and the best years of our lives have been put on hold so please stop blaming us for the rise of COVID-19 cases. We do not deserve it.
Matt Hancock said there could be a second wave of COVID-19 if young generations didn’t listen to the rules. Nicola Sturgeon told university students they weren’t to attend pubs and restaurants, but those who are most at-risk can do what they want when they want. The virus does not discriminate based on age and we students understand the seriousness of the situation, so why do our politicians and university administrators ignore the consequences we face as a result of lockdown and believe us to be irresponsible?
While the world focuses on how COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our elderly population, its greatly hurt young people too. Childline saw their calls increase by 30% over lockdown and Britain’s experiencing a mental health crisis –most noticeably amongst the younger generations– which our government has failed to address. Research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that young people (16-24) are almost twice as likely (50.8%) to experience “lockdown loneliness” than those in the 55-69 year old category. This forces us to question what the real impacts of COVID-19 will be. It’s vital we remember that our generation will face serious long-term mental health repercussions because of the government’s inaction.
Therefore, I’m sure I speak for many of my fellow students when I say that the government and universities must stop using students as scapegoats. We’ve been left in the dark and our voices have been ignored. Please, just listen to us. If you reckon we enjoy the stress of cancelled exams and uncertainty surrounding our grades, you’re wrong. We worry about the health and safety of our friends and family every day. We too want what’s best for our country. You’ve asked us to stand together to promote public safety by wearing masks and abiding by social distancing guidelines since March. Now, it’s about time you stood with us.