Life as a fresher this year is a cross between Nineteen Eighty-Four and Lord of the Flies | Iris Clifford


It’s less than a fortnight into my first term of university and it seems like I have received more emails informing me of coronavirus restrictions than I have about my actual course. I am an undergraduate at the University of Manchester and, like so many others across the country, my introduction to student life has been a shambles.

Coming from a gap year ruined by coronavirus I was hoping for a change in environment, taking in freshers’ events, society fairs and opportunities to meet new people. Instead the university experience I was looking forward to hasn’t materialised, with little to no communication informing me of when and where these events are, and which of them have been transferred online or just cancelled.

Cases are rising in and around our accommodation and little information or support has been given to us. People have organised themselves to isolate as flats or blocks and it is working pretty well, despite the lack of material help from university management. If I’m frustrated about the way we’ve been left to fend for ourselves, I am still thankful our situation is not as dire as that of my friends down the road at Manchester Metropolitan University, many of whom are literally locked inside their halls and have told of having their movements surveyed by security.

Post-it Notes pepper their windows, expressing both resignation and anger at the government, which students ultimately blame for this mess: “send us beer/weed”, “Boris sucks”, “HMP MMU”, and “9K 4 what?”. Manchester Met’s reaction to this harmless humour was a draconian demand that all the signs be removed (which they subsequently apologised for). Thousands of young people from across the land, full of hope, have been fetching up in the great metropolis of Manchester – and have then been faced with Nineteen Eighty-Four at the Met and Lord of the Flies over at the Uni.

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I’m here to learn. What about the academic year? Small amounts of information often add to the confusion. Students have been puzzled as to how to even enrol in classes, with not much sense of what will be online and offline. During my first Zoom seminar the internet went down halfway through. We need study space away from our claustrophobic rooms, but we hear that we can’t use the library or study areas on campus.

It’s a scandal: turning up to halls only to be effectively locked in and then denied a proper university experience. So many universities got their first years in, as far as I’m concerned, just to get their tuition and rental money. And then young people are blamed for going out, as if you can be faulted for not wanting to be locked in a 3m x 1.5m (9ft x 5ft) room around the clock when you’re far from home.

It’s clear to me now that universities are just money-making machines. The Tories guaranteed this when they allowed universities to triple fees in 2010, and also cut funding. Now higher education is just about maximising revenue and screwing the customer … I mean, student. This is what every “Fuck Boris” Post-it Note is really about.

Make-do meet-ups in accommodation courtyards have given us a sense of solidarity but it is a real shame that our age group has been continuously messed around from the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak.

I came to Manchester to learn, with hopes of getting a job afterwards that will allow me to make a difference in a great city. I understand that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and nothing is easy, but this could have been handled differently for students everywhere. It should have been an opportunity to grow and thrive, but, for now, I’m just staring at a breeze-block wall.

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