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New Normal or Business as Usual?

Covid-19 has meant that young people and university students are facing times of complete uncertainty. Students have had to adapt their learning methods to online teaching and change the ways they socialise. They are now also under increased stress due to the lack of guaranteed employment and ever-rising living costs, especially in London.

Despite all this, young people have been heavily blamed for spreading the coronavirus whilst their concerns have been widely ignored. Students have protested having to pay full tuition fees as it is likely most teaching will be online, with no guarantee when they will be able to return to campus.

Even though this is necessary as it is the safest option for those shielding and obviously reduces the risk of transmission, the consensus between students is anger at having to pay full fees. The reason for this being finding it harder to engage with work and classmates online and difficulty focusing with a lack of open study spaces.

There also needs to be consideration of international students who are having to wake up at ludicrous hours to take seminars because of time zone differences.  Further, there are a plethora of technical issues that arise from being so reliant on technology. This long list of factors hinders students’ studies and puts the argument that the quality of online teaching is equal to in-person teaching up for debate. Some feel it is completely unfair to pay full fees for online school which no one signed up for.

Isolation has also understandably been an incredibly challenging and unsettling time for young people’s mental health. However, an extremely underfunded NHS has meant waiting times for support can be 3 months long.

University support may often not be enough to battle mental health struggles worsened by the lockdown and ongoing anxieties around coronavirus. As many people are already struggling, with a lack of resources to help through difficult times and their objections to full university fees largely ignored, students and young people feel their voices and concerns are being neglected and that they have little autonomy surrounding their studies.

Another anxiety of students has been being blamed for the second wave of cases. I asked a group of students how complicit they had been with following the new restrictions and if this had affected their mental health. All said they had broken the rules on a fairly regular basis. This ranged from forgetting to wear a mask in public, to mixing households, to large parties. Generally, it was meeting with multiple different friends and not keeping distanced at social events.

Some students found that other than occasional feelings of boredom and loneliness, they were able to carry on activities they enjoyed and coped fairly well. However, others found being unable to socialise caused a strain on mental health and that they frequently broke the rules in what seemed to be ‘catching up’ on the months spent indoors.

I asked students how they felt breaking the rules and if they accept any responsibility. All of the students that I interviewed were aware that this was reckless and in some cases selfish but seemed to justify it with not wanting to miss out on their twenties or underestimating the risk to themselves.

This raises the question: are socialising students partly to blame for the second wave in coronavirus cases?

As much as it is a moral duty for everyone to stop the spread, it seems unfair to blame individuals rather than view the situation holistically and hold the government accountable. Students are not exempt from the rules – they are going to have to adapt their lives to meet the restrictions, as the sacrifices young people make now will benefit those most vulnerable in society.

With that in mind, some argue the scapegoating of students is just a distraction as it takes the focus away from the government’s failures dealing with the pandemic. The voices and concerns of all young people must be listened to – especially when it comes to their education and well-being.

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