Students deserve sympathy not scorn as they pick up tab for Covid-19 crisis - Bill Carmichael
I know this can be an emotionally fraught time for many families, made far worse this year because of the uncertainty caused by the Covid 19 outbreak.
For example, we still don’t know for sure if our daughter will be allowed to come back home for Christmas, and the thought of her spending a miserable festive season in a small room on her own fills me with absolute dread.
I am sure I am not the only parent fervently praying that it doesn’t come to that.
This is just one of the ways in which students and young people generally – precisely the section of the population who are least at risk from the actual virus – have been hit hard by the restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the disease.
For example school pupils have had their lessons, including important GCSE and A-level work, badly disrupted over the last few months.
And students have seen their normal expectations of university turned upside down. Many lectures and other lessons are now delivered online remotely. Currently, most universities are planning some scaled back face-to-face sessions, but even they may be abandoned if Covid cases continue to spike.
All in all it is hard to escape the conclusion that students are getting a raw deal.
Already several universities, including Manchester Metropolitan, Oxford Brookes, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Glasgow, have imposed lockdowns on students after recording positive Covid cases in halls of residence.
According to some reports, students in total lockdown have complained they are not only lonely and isolated, but are they also running out of basics such as food and toilet paper. A grim situation.
Equally importantly, the social aspect of attending university – making new friends that may last a lifetime, attending parties, making an absolute fool of yourself and generally having a good time – have been severely curtailed.
Speaking personally, I can’t remember very much about the history lectures I attended as a student, but the parties, and more importantly what followed – the earnest discussions right through the night about politics, music, art, sport, literature, religion and philosophy – will stay with me forever.
And don’t forget that many students, like my daughter, are not only paying many thousands in fees to universities for what is basically an online course, they have also had to shell out many thousands more for accommodation that they were unable to use. After lockdown in March landlords still demanded that students pay rent for empty properties
And at the end of this dispiriting, miserable experience, these poor students will enter a jobs market that will be utterly devastated by the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak and they will find that well-paid jobs, or even poorly paid jobs, will be in short supply as never before.
Even if all this wasn’t bad enough, remember one vitally important extra thing. Our Chancellor of the Exchequer and Yorkshire Richmond MP, Rishi Sunak, has had to borrow vast sums to keep the economy afloat – £174bn in this financial year alone.
Given the extreme situation caused by the pandemic I don’t think he had much choice.
But ask yourself a simple question. Who do you think is expected to pay this massive bill? Yes you are right – it is largely the young people of today who will be forced to pay in the future for our failures in the present.
Every time we borrow money because we cannot live within our means, we are in effect stealing from our own children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
So where does that leave us? Massively in debt with a shattered economy is the answer.
But my advice, for what it is worth, is to stay strong. Our country has been through many tough times before and with resilience and determination we have survived and gone on to thrive.
And if you have children or grandchildren heading off to university this autumn, give them the biggest hug you possibly can; fire up Skype, Zoom or whatever teleconferencing software you fancy; support them as much as you can, and pray they will be home in December to share your Christmas dinner.
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