Let down by our leaders, abandoned by our university, after doing everything we were told in order to build a successful life for ourselves, what do we do now?
In scenes that couldn’t have been imagined just a few months ago, we have watched as thousands of students have arrived at university, only to have been imprisoned in their accommodation. We have observed with horror as our beloved Goldsmiths has been corporatized, promises have been broken, and our education has been stolen from us through marketisation. We have mourned the loss of staff and stood with them in strike action, attempting to collectively combat the ever-encroaching neo-liberal beast. Our peers have graduated into a pandemic poisoned and recession battered labour market and the demands of GARA have been treated with contempt.
This generation, and the one that came before it has been well and truly fucked over. The lack of youth services, the over stretched teachers, the struggle to survive at university. But Covid-19 has truly shown us the contempt those in power hold us in. The assault on young people seems to come from all sides, increasing tuition fees and blame for a second wave from our government; marketisation of education and lack of care from our universities; mocking from the generations before us who brand us as ‘snowflakes’ and ‘work-shy’. In this toxic malaise of abandonment, blame and neglect, how can we be expected to thrive?
This abuse of students and young people may seem new and reactionary, but most of us have been side-lined by the powers that be since before we were born. Many of us have only really known a Britain run by the Tories and we are now facing another major recession. Any cosy Sure Start centres or child benefit that may have cushioned our early lives has been violently stripped away. Despite our changing society and the new challenges surrounding work, housing and family life, our education still rigidly prepares us for the lives middle class generations had before us. ‘Work hard at school’, ‘go to university and get a degree’, everything will be okay if you just get your head down and study hard. This capitalist narrative that ‘hard work pays off’ has become so ingrained in our national psyche that we are in real danger of transitioning into an adulthood that will deeply disappoint us. Millennials are well known to be on track to be the first generation that will be widely worse off than their parents and those of us in study look to be going in the same direction. What’s more, the structures and culture that allowed many ‘boomers’ to climb the ladder like company loyalty and a real minimum wage have disappeared, replaced by insecure, fixed term contracts and wages that pay the rent and not much else. We are living in what Peter Fleming describes as a time of radical responsibilisation of the work force, with the onus on us as workers to fund our own self-development and make ourselves more attractive to employers, with totally unpredictable results.
Covid-19 has collided violently with the neoliberal resurgence of the past twenty years. There has been a subtle but growing focus on the marketisation of higher education and the reconfiguring of the purposes of a university education as we know it and the pandemic has provided the cover needed to push this agenda further. In the fine print of the conditions attached to the relief package offered to universities by the government, they were expected to end courses seen as being of “low value”, with an emphasis on courses with good job prospects, a clear attack on the arts and humanities and an indication that a holistic judgement of the quality of higher education is now redundant. Goldsmiths SMT also used the pandemic to advance their ‘evolving Goldsmiths’ agenda by inviting KPMG to perform a ‘size and shape review’ to further cut costs. This focus on cost cutting and ‘value for money’ places enormous pressures on staff and students and is symptomatic of the increasing focus on the cost/benefit analysis used to justify the worth of a degree.
So, where do we go from here? According to the Princes Trust, more than a third of young people now believe that they need to give up on their dream career in order to get any job at all, and whilst ‘dreaming of labour’ is part of the neoliberal problem itself, this hopelessness amongst our peers is indicative of just how damaging covid has been for young people. So much needs to change in order to re-instil hope and the ability to thrive in current students and graduates. For now, whilst we brace for the coming recession, austerity and attacks on the most vulnerable in our society it is up to us to create community, however virtual to provide the support and encouragement that seems to be lacking from our government and those who run our institutions.