The revelation that universities prioritise profit margins over students is as stunning as
knowing the earth isn’t flat. Back in March, when there was still a fair amount of optimism
in the phrase ‘post-Covid’, the university took the precaution of closing the libraries, thus
denying final year students, postgraduates and PhD students a chance of solace at a time
they needed it most. It’s easy to forget how useful libraries really are; as well as the
resources they provide, freedom to study overnight (thus accommodating part-time jobs),
and the comfort of group-studying, libraries are one of the few places left in society you
can go without being expected to pay money. Try studying in a non-uni bar or café.
Eventually you will have to get your wallet out, and, to paraphrase Pink Floyd, “I’m oraight,
Jack, keep thi’ hands off my stack”.
The Students’ Union opened Bar One weeks before the University of Sheffield announced (or even dispersed information about) a plan to open libraries again. It’s an ideal analogy for where the country’s priorities lie; not only is there more danger of catching Covid-19 in bars (largely due to the wonderful social distance breakers of vodka and rum), but the university is expecting students who have already been financially hard-hit to deal with fewer academic resources and less administrative support. We are here to be educated, and the university receives around £30k to provide us access to the appropriate resources, not just to watch lectures from home.
It can’t be ignored that SSiD is appointment only, International Student Support is solely operating online and the University Counselling Services are stretched to the limit.
For as long as the government puts profit over student life by prioritising bars over libraries, student problems will exacerbate. It’s simply easier to buy a pint and forget about your day than fight for a place at a library that seems only open to accommodate our wants rather than our needs. It’s even harsher on commuting students who will have few places to stay between contact hours if you have to book library slots in advance and are only open during the day. And that’s where the real danger lies. What time was spent studying or relaxing in the comfort of quiet library spaces will now be time when you are encouraged to spend money. With little availability in quiet library spaces, students now have fewer options in study spaces, and the SU’s opening of Bar One is not an appropriate substitute. It’s difficult to know who to blame exactly: the lack of university engagement, or the government’s messages over the past few weeks (hint: it’s the latter). ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ and ‘doing your duty’ to get back into pubs has been a key factor in the recent rise of Covid-19 transmission rates.
Universities must use sense, do what is right, and put education and health over money. Lives are being played with, and you don’t have to die to not live. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, all while tuition fees have remained the same. Considering tuition fees have remained the same, it should not be the responsibility of students to bail out the university or SU, nor should it ever be the natural order of things. The university must now ask itself: is it that hard to show you care?