College during Covid: Why students have every right to be angry

When universities shut in March, my learning was pretty much halted.

Screen time: Some of the lecturers on my course stopped teaching completely, uploading PowerPoint presentations or assigning readings instead of organising online lectures.

Screen time: Some of the lecturers on my course stopped teaching completely, uploading PowerPoint presentations or assigning readings instead of organising online lectures.

 

Covid-19 has affected our entire world, sweeping across class divisions, occupations and all age groups. But I think it is safe to say that we are all united in our empathy for one particular group in Irish society, the students entering college next year - and not just in an “Ack, poor things missing the Leaving Cert,” type of way.

College is one of the most memorable and enjoyable times in a young person’s life. It is where they get to explore what they actually want to learn about, make friends with similar interests, where they test their livers’ limits and their smoke alarm’s capabilities.

But, most importantly, college is where young people finally learn how to make it out on their own. University isn’t only about shaping brains, but identities, and all that shaping isn’t cheap.

The young people entering these institutions, as well as their parents, pay a lot of money for this highly anticipated stage of their lives, which has been completely upended since Covid-19 came to town.

There is accommodation to pay for, travel, books, and, of course, tuition, which hasn’t been lowered by any Irish institution since the pandemic began. Instead, colleges are seeking the same stomach-churning amount from students this year, even though they won’t be getting any of the usual benefits.

Sure, there are Zoom calls and perhaps in-person tutorials, but as someone who has just finished their master’s degree, I for one can attest to the fact that these forms of learning just simply don’t work for everyone.

When universities shut in March, my learning was pretty much halted. Sure, I met my deadlines and did the assignments, but never to my top capabilities, and only to check a box. No longer was I curious or able to listen to intelligent debates in a classroom, I was alone at home without a desk, and without anyone to motivate me.

Some of the lecturers on my course stopped teaching completely, uploading PowerPoint presentations or assigning readings instead of organising online lectures. Sure, they were an email away, but no student is ever going to be as comfortable emailing a lecturer as talking to them in person, and frankly, by the end of the month, I wanted my money back, and I wasn’t the only one.

Students entering the 20/21 academic year are stressed. They are facing up against more than a lot of us could handle at the age of 18, and it is equally stressful for the students going back to college who expect so much more than to listen to their lecturer through a pair of Airpods.

They expect debates and intellectual conversations with peers and their teachers to ask them questions and grill them. They expect to learn presentation skills and people skills and teamwork.

They expect to make new friends and join sports teams and watch movies with the sci-fi society or eat croissants with the French society. But for those that don’t play GAA, on-campus meetups are as sure to be a thing of the past as lectures- especially for members of the Harry Potter society.

So why then, are Irish colleges expecting these students to pay the same tuition? They have every right to demand a decrease in fees, these young people who beg their parents for money, give up their weekends to work part-time jobs and take out early loans from banks.

Young people are more than capable of knowing when they are being screwed over by a system they can’t even begin to understand. Sure, times are tough for everyone, and yes, generation Z are equipped with a great knowledge of technology and can Google their way around it.

But while they are well capable of signing into Hangouts and chatting over Zoom, they deserve more, and for €3000, even they know asking Alexa for help just isn’t going to cut it.