A Dirty Quarantini, on the rocks


There's a very distinctly bittersweet feeling in the air. Outside feels summery, and at my partner's house where I'm staying, we often keep the front door and windows open during the day. There's the occasional breeze, but things are warming up. There's also the tension, and the constant slinking of police cars and vans up and down the streets. There's the odd bouts of silence (with the occasional sound of a skateboard) and the fact that we can't really leave the house.

This isn't strictly true for my partner and I. We both work for a large supermarket chain and there's always overtime going so we're somewhat able to go outside with justifiable reason. Not that I'd say it feels much like going outside, though. As I say, there's a very strange tension - you really can feel the fear in the air at time. This is especially true when I'm at work - we're currently adhering to lots of (largely welcomed) social distancing rules and interacting with the public at the moment is a very different affair to what I'm used to.

Sometimes I can be the first, and only, point of contact in somebody's entire day. One desperately enthusiastic lady explained to me that (aside from her young children) she hadn't seen anybody else in around a week, having not left the house other than to shop. On some level I felt good that I was able to be a friendly face, an adult conversation and a slice of normality. It did also feel really weird - I've had a lot of similar interactions (with a lot of people thanking myself and my colleagues for our work, which is nice I suppose) and I can really sense the desperation in people. There's a feeling of absolute helplessness on my part. Half of me wants to do everything I can to solve everything and get people out of isolation (especially when I'm speaking to elderly customers), and the other half knows I need to be extra careful not to burn out and try to assume all responsibility for other people's feelings and lives. I've struggled with this unhealthy habit in the past, and with everything that's going on at the moment I really don't need to add anything else to the pile.

I've written around three quarters of my dissertation now and I've largely finished the reading (I'm probably expected to do more but it's just not going to happen for various reasons). This feels like a big achievement in itself given how much I've had to deal with over the past couple of years and at the risk of sounding super sorry for myself I really think I deserve a break. I'm hoping the university take into account the things that have happened during my time at university, as well as the fact I'm waiting to be referred for an ADHD assessment and also now count as a "key worker" and can't just drop everything to write essays.

If I'm completely honest, I don't believe my university (or many of them in the UK, to be honest) has any real interest in the personal circumstances of students, pandemic or not. For one, the obsession with assessments hasn't gone anywhere. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that this is unlike anything most people have ever experienced, there's no appetite to make any assessments optional or remove some of the weight from marks. Despite the fact that thousands of people have already died in the UK (including children), meaningless essays can't be extended by more than a week (or just made optional). I say meaningless because we all know deep down that one or two more essays isn't really going to change anything about your ability to carry out a job or to produce further academic work. Obviously this is a bit different for more practical/science-based subjects, but I have a real problem with the continued obsession with exams and essays for BA students especially at the moment. As the great proverb goes - Kim, there's people that are dying.

I'm hoping my university implements proper safety net measures, similar to those of Cambridge and Sheffield. As ever, mine is characteristically vague about everything and mentioned the need to work with external marking agencies and employers before making decisions about assessments. I personally think this is a little ridiculous, given that other universities have committed (pretty quickly) to a policy of passed assessments not affecting classifications negatively without any extra fanfare. You also do have to ask yourself in what world are employers of BA grads going to be judging the fact somebody may or may not have submitted one final essay on the class symbolism in Doctor Who. Please.

I also have a problem with the wider culture around extensions and grades, too. Now, let me be clear that I do not agree that universities should be marketised, or that you should pay fees to attend, or that degrees/academic study should exist only as a commodity. However, I do think we have to accept that for many people (myself included), the reality is that a degree has on some level become a commodity. I don't exactly have £30k to throw at nothing, and as much as I value the learning experience and skills, most of us probably wouldn't bother with the debt if a degree wasn't so necessary to get even the most entry level of jobs in the current climate.

We do ultimately have to pay almost ten thousand pounds per year to attend. And when you're spending ten grand, I think the least we as students should be able to expect is some value for money (...as a treat). I don't mean that everyone should get a first in everything, but there are some things that need to change. For one, for this much money, how can anybody justify requiring quite so much evidence in order to be granted an extension on a piece of work? If one was to be completely radical, you may ask that if you're already paying, why should you have to get permission at all to submit something late? Of course I understand that staff numbers are limited and that schools have other obligations, but for nearly ten grand it's not exactly fair to make this the problem of the student. Perhaps a cut from the bloated wage packets of vice-chancellors (amongst other things), or the tuition fee revenue (used for god know's what) could be better spent on appropriate staffing levels?

There's also the issue of 40% caps on resits. Again, I'd argue that 9+ grand is more than enough to justify being able to have another shot at an assessment (that won't result in a guaranteed low grade). There's always the suggestion that poor grades are the fault of the student, and of course this can be true, but so what? Unfortunately, when you're going to charge so much, you can't really claim the high ground. A simple alternative solution to all of this would be to lower fees (if not to rid students of them completely - we can only dream), but I'm sure this is the most whimsical of fantasies.

Long-winded rant aside, the way univerisities have handled recent events has been pretty naff. I'm not saying that this isn't in part due to the wider uncertainty around the state of things amidst the outbreak and subsequent lockdown. As with most things, though, the problem of unruly bureaucracy seems to be based on an abject unwillingness to do anything helpful from upper management and policymakers. Someone, somewhere, has the power to do something, and is instead refusing to for some reason that is either arbitrary, nefarious, or both. Unfortunately, it's probably the latter, and it really does put things into perspective. For all that my (and others I'm sure) university witters on about championing student needs and mental health, as an institution it really, truly does not care. I honestly feel like a walking bank-transfer on campus and I honestly can't wait to be free of this place forever. Which breaks my heart because I do really enjoy my subject and am always interested in learning more and developing my work. But given the way I and others around me have been treated (in sometimes pretty unspeakable circumstances), I just need to escape and start living my life.

This has been building up for a lot of the time I've been at university (and perhaps in education more widely). The virus outbreak has given me a lot of time to stew and consider things, and I am genuinely so excited to be free. For the best part of the next 12 months I'm planning on staying in my retail job while I learn to drive and save up a bit of money. There are a few apprenticeships and fixed-term yearly roles that I've seen advertised in Leeds this year and I'd quite like to apply for some next time they come around. Once I'm able to drive, I'll also have the ability to travel a bit further and can look into some of the trade union and policy jobs that come up in the surrounding towns/cities from time to time. Hopefully I'll also be able to get things moving re the ADHD assessment and get a bit more insight into what goes on in this brain of mine. This will all be spread out over a fair bit time, mind. I really just can't wait to be free from deadlines for a bit.

I didn't mention this in the post, but I'm obsessed with Angel Olsen's album from the latter end of last year. Check out my favourite song below:

If you've got time, be sure to check out the rest of my website! You can find the navigation on the right (or above the post if you're on mobile). I've put quite a lot of time into making things look cool, and I've been slowly adding to my writing portfolio. There's even a couple of cool links and resources for your own blog. As ever, thanks for reading x

grrrr this post is aNgErY