Dear Michelle Donelan, universities’ minister

University student working online
Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

When I started university in September 2019, I was expecting a lot of things. I was expecting to make some new friends and get to know a new and diverse range of fellow students. I was expecting a pristine environment where I could study my passions in a stimulating, supportive and relaxed community. I was expecting to be able to use university facilities without needing to book timed slots to access them. And for the first six months, that is exactly what happened. I got into some volunteering opportunities that changed my life for the better. I ran around in hilarious costumes handing out free contraceptives. Things were looking up. Then the pandemic hit.

Leaving students to flounder

Suddenly, you and the rest of the system started to show their true colors. You and Mr. Williamson left students to flounder as they suddenly had to adapt to digital learning, often without the right equipment needed to do the job. Staff had to worry about their own health and safety, and their loved ones, many of whom were abroad at the time of the pandemic.

Yet the thing that was on their mind the most was the worry they had about the wellbeing of their students. They went above and beyond in their care, which was a good thing. Mind found that 73% of us reported a decline in mental health as a result of the pandemic. Students struggling to find income to pay for university expenses due to being on furlough and anxiety leading to students struggling to complete their academic work have been commonplace throughout the last nineteen/twenty months.

The wake of destruction that you have left is disgusting and you do not seem to care one bit about that.

“Blended experiences” for over £9K

And now you and Mr. Williamson are still enabling universities to market their degrees as “blended experiences” while still charging £9250. It’s incredibly disingenuous for Mr. Williamson to go on record arguing that universities shouldn’t be charging full fees for degrees with online teaching and then backtracking on it a day later.

Your silence on the issue is absolutely deafening.

So let me get this straight: universities were required by the government to close when the pandemic first started. But when the issues of finances came up, you threw the word ‘autonomy’ around as a get out of jail free card. So, which one is it? It seems to be both depending on whatever suits your agenda, because you have no actual passion for the students or staff you claim to want to support.

Why keep online teaching?

Social distancing regulations have already been lifted so why do universities still feel compelled to maintain online teaching? Because you have given them the option of increasing their profit margins that they are taking with open arms. This is understandable considering how you and Mr. Williamson plan on slashing funding for certain courses. You’ve systematically underfunded universities at every single opportunity you’ve got, while tossing scraps of student hardship funding to try and shut us up.

The hardship funding only came after multiple student rent strikes, which even the Student Unions at those universities tried to stop. That surprised me considering that Student Unions are meant to represent their students instead of turning against them. The latter is exactly what you wanted. Do not try to pretend otherwise. At least the Student Union that represents me actually advocates for us instead of throwing us under the bus.

An immersive learning experience”

Despite everyone acting complacently with blended learning arrangements to support university staff who are still receiving unfair hate, nobody is satisfied with this. Students sitting on their beds, kitchen tables or the university library watching pre-recorded videos or live streams is nobody’s idea of an “immersive learning experience”. Having to book slots to use library facilities that we are paying £9250 isn’t anyone’s idea of an “immersive learning experience”.

And I fear for this upcoming cohort of Freshers as you have conditioned them to accept paying up £9250 for degrees that aren’t worth that amount. Universities were hung out to dry as they worried about the impact of oversubscribed courses on social distancing regulations. Those worries have now been realised, and not a single word has come out of your mouth.

So many times, you have said how “grateful” you have been for the teaching staff within universities this past year, but you haven’t actually put your money where your mouth is. So, I hope you understand what I mean when I call you a poser. All you have done is toss financial scraps towards universities while plastering your marketable smile across online press statements, trying to hide how ineffective you truly have been.

An absolute disgrace

Michelle, you are an absolute disgrace and embarrassment to the Higher Education system. You and Mr. Williamson are symbolic of the harrowing wreck that has come out of the pandemic. And judging from your poor performance as our university minister, you couldn’t even look after a goldfish never mind an entire education sector.

The worst thing about it is that you could have made yourself into a hero in our eyes. You could have had open letters thanking you for your hard work instead of letters like these dragging you through the mud. But you have blown it and there’s no marketing your way out of this one. I wanted to root for you, but you have failed us.

I hope you resign at your earliest convenience. We’ll be waiting for your resignation letter any day now.

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