On an unsuspecting day in late April, I finally finished my undergraduate degree at Queen Mary. A prestigious institution in the heart of London, I should’ve felt exalted, alive and excited for the future. However, upon my final submission, all I seemed to feel was apprehensive and anxious, overwhelmed with the burning question: should I make a political statement at my graduation?
My three years of university education consisted of online learning, COVID lockdowns and strikes, which the establishment have often handled in a questionable manner. Many other students in a variety of universities across the UK have had a similar experience. Manchester University has come under intense scrutiny since the pandemic, with students undertaking a rent strike in March due to mould, leaks, mice and rat infestations along with rising prices.
It’s no wonder that the 2023 cohort want a partial refund, having been subject to isolation and often, poor treatment whilst living on campus in 2020, to having the majority of their second and third-year classes cancelled due to strikes.
The pandemic was of course unprecedented; many institutions may have just been doing the best that they could in such a scenario. However, QMUL has since made national headlines due to its ongoing dispute with the UCU, a trade union that represents academics, lecturers and other university members. Well-respected staff have left due to precarious contracts and poor management, whilst others are potentially staging a marking boycott over the summer. Laleh Khalili, a well-respected academic who resigned in February, stated that “For me the last straw was the cruel, craven call by management for students to snitch on us” in a tweet garnering just under four thousand likes.
Despite the pushback from students and staff alike, the university has continued with its punitive measures, such as threatening to deduct 100% of staff wages if they did not rearrange educational activities cancelled due to strike action. Not only does this have potential legal ramifications, it is incredibly unfair. It comes to no surprise that many have been left feeling vulnerable, undervalued and disillusioned.
Despite this, my university experience hasn’t been all bad. My time at QM has given me friends I hope to have for a lifetime, an education from some incredible scholars and many fond memories. However, this has not made up for the many poor decisions made by the university management over the years.
So, upon the completion of my degree, I’m left questioning whether it was worth the debt, stress or chaos. Most of all, I can’t help but wonder – did the university value me or was it just my money?