Students & COVID – The forgotten voice

This photo used to be one of my favourites. It’s my son Kai and I, just over three years ago, on our way to his university interview. We were both incredibly excited, so full of hope for Kai’s future. Now looking at it makes me incredibly sad.

Kai is almost at the end of his time at uni and the onset of COVID has had an enormous impact on his course, Media Productions, a practical degree which doesn’t and hasn’t transferred well to online learning.

Without access to the university studio and the specialist equipment and being able to work in groups Kai is set to leave uni in three months with no portfolio and virtually no hope of breaking into the industry he is so passionate about. Despite this there is no chance of a refund on the £9000 fees he has paid each year. The government has given no direct financial aid to universities or students in England. The parliamentary debate on 16th November resulted in the government stating students had to contact their universities if they wanted a refund and so far, according to The Tab, only 1.6% of students who have tried to claim a refund have received a small sum. (As there were lecturer strikes at the beginning of 2020 in Kai’s second year there has been no face-to-face teaching for over 12 months now).

The course fees aren’t the only debts students accumulate. There is the cost of accommodation. Most students have been told not to return to campus under Gavin Williamson has unveiled a roadmap for a staggered return. Some accommodation providers are offering a partial refund but there is not official guidelines although this is something Boris Johnson as said he will ‘look at’.

So what about the students on practical courses who are leaving uni without the experience they signed up for and no prospects without portfolios?

The future is grim.

Here I chat to Kai a little further about the challenges he has faced in the past year. Apologies for the quality in some parts – but do give it a watch and if you’re a student, a parent or any one with constructive advice, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Letting go – when a child leaves for Uni – 3 important things I gave my son

 

I still remember it so clearly; the heady joy of discovering I was pregnant; the overwhelm of a love that was almost painful the first time I held my baby.  It seemed unfathomable back then to think of a time I’d be without my children.  First steps, first words. Sticky toddler kisses, teenage uncertainty as they tried to navigate their way in the world and then, later, it was me who was uncertain and afraid as I took my second child to university. The heartbreak as I drove away in a car that was too empty. Too quiet. Back to a house that looked exactly the same but felt somehow different.

I felt somehow different.

A mother bird with an almost empty nest.

It was difficult initially to sift through my feelings. What was real and what was imagined. What thoughts were coming from ego, of which there were many: –

  • Of course he’ll never be as comfortable anywhere else as he is at home.
  • Of course he won’t eat as well now I’m not cooking for him.
  • Of course he’ll never wear clean clothes again.

Except he will. He does. He can.

He’s resilient. Strong. Capable of creating his own home, operating a cooker, a washing machine. Underneath the tangle of irrational fears that I’d never see him again, that our relationship would be irrevocably altered, came a creeping sense of pride.

I’ve brought him up well. He’s smart, funny, resourceful and kind.

Last month I left him at university with three things.

A photo book of his childhood. The cover a reminder that wherever he goes, whatever he does, he has a family who will always have his back. Be there for anything he needs. Who would unquestionably bury a body for him.

 

A story about his hopes and dreams. It’s easy to get swept away. To forget who you are, what you want. What you can achieve if you try. A mother/son chat warning him of the pitfalls of too much partying and not enough work would have been quickly forgotten. Instead, I wrote a story about a boy and his journey through adulthood constructed almost entirely of lyrics and song titles from his favourite band, The Counting Crows. A reminder of what he could be.

 

The last thing I gave him was the wisdom that every student should know. It’s always salt, tequila, lemon. Don’t mess with the order. And always, ALWAYS, drink a pint of water before bed.

These were the things I left him with at university, but he left me with so much more. A heart full of love and a lifetime of memories along with an immense sense of gratitude that the world is wide open to him. The world is lucky to have him.

 

 

 

Images courtesy of Unsplash – Liv Bruce & Fidel Fernando.

Why I was SO grateful to go back to school – My visit to Northants Uni

Recently I received an email from the University of Northampton asking if I’d be willing to go in and be interviewed by the media/journalism degree students to talk about writing and following your dreams. I felt a pang of excitement and instantly my first thought wasn’t what I could offer them, but what I could learn from them.

At the risk of sounding ancient, I’m from a generation of girls who weren’t often encouraged to go to University, and we were sometimes actively discouraged. The 80’s may all have been about bold make-up, big hair and shoulder pads, and although women nailed power dressing (I really NEVER nailed power dressing btw) the advice I got from my careers advisor was still to become a secretary. Regular hours, steady pay, and I’d always be home in time to make my future family’s dinner.

During my visit I was struck by the sense of purpose in the University, the determination in the air. Yes, I’m sure there are parties, drinking too much and those who don’t appreciate what an incredible opportunity it affords them being there, not just education wise but in terms of personal growth and life experience, but the students I had the pleasure of meeting had something I was sadly lacking as a teenager. Confidence. The belief they could work within the field of their chosen careers. A quiet determination to succeed that has taken me over 40 years to cultivate myself.

It was a real privilege to visit and I came away feeling inspired and hopeful. You hear so many negative things about our younger generation it was a pleasure to spend time in the company of creative, ambitious, young adults who I have no doubt can do anything they set their mind to.