A hand has been extended to the university: it needs to be firmly grasped.
Today we found out that students at York are turning to food banks to survive and to get the nutrition they need. And we clearly need to act.
We often joke about the disgusting food in catering or the incredulous prices and lack of choice at Nisa. But whilst making these jokes, we fail to grasp the reality that some students at this university campus are facing.
More than 1,300 people in the largest student wards around the university have accessed one of the four centres open since June 2012, with the wards with the largest student housing population recording a significantly larger number of hand-outs. There is without a doubt, when comparing these figures to that of the census records, that students are being forced to go to food banks to survive. I even know a guy who dropped out of uni for the same reason for a time.
There may be a number of reasons for the hearty of the cause but, frankly, nobody is taking the blame – and nobody is likely to.
But there’s another reason why the university does really need to listen up to this worrying news, even if it is difficult to talk about. The fact that nobody knows exactly how many students have not been advised to visit food banks is worrying. The fact that the university has failed to provide a comment on the situation, despite knowing they have referred students to the banks, is a frightening issue.
This isn’t solely an issue for students here at York; this is also an issue for the wider community. More than one in six people who have been to a food bank in York have been under the age of 25.
Even more disconcerting is the fact that many other universities are now considering setting up their own schemes, such as Hull University. This is a sign that the university system is severely failing students.
In the last four years we have seen a rise in tuition fees, despite there being no original mandate, a hit in the number of students attending university from working class backgrounds (mainly males), and the sale of the Student Loan Company – which Vince Cable controversially U-turned without even consulting the Cabinet on.
What’s more, Willets claimed the sell-off would deter people from “deliberately not paying back”. Clearly, students are held in contempt by both the government and the wider public and do not receive the respect that we deserve.
Students are regularly blamed and accused of miscalculating their budgets, or drinking and sleeping too much.
But obviously there is an acceptance that we are clever human beings who made it into higher education in the first place, so why is there still a taboo on the matter? The actual taboo involves blaming universities.
Students are starting out at university without the proper guidance and are not equipped with the correct information of who to go to when in need. Students are facing genuine financial hardship without the absolute essentials.
Of course, many will argue that this is in no way the university’s job. And they are wrong. Being an educational institution, and not a profit-making one, it is paramount it adheres to certain principles. One of those principles is to make the students’ life feasible. It is no less than its responsibility to make the meeting of one’s basic needs affordable.
That, obviously, does not mean controlling prices in general; that is not only impossible but absurd. It does mean, however, accommodating for those who can’t always afford supermarket prices.
And what we see is an unresponsive administration to the numerous complaints voiced by students. A study by the York Student Think Tank has shown that 85 per cent of students polled are dissatisfied with the prices in the only major shop on campus – Nisa. Whilst the university argues that the shop is only a ‘corner shop’ for students, it is in fact a major part of students’ lives on campus and adds a massive hike in our expenses.
In other words, as students, we need the proper environment to flourish. And food banks do not belong in it.
Whilst universities persist to care for the educational and welfare requirements of their students – it is clear that this isn’t their No.1 priority. Figures and where they lie on the league tables has become more important than our basic welfare needs.
Universities have become the modern day equivalent of a sweat shop – we are here to work for those of the future, to play our part in a capitalist society that doesn’t care about us – and we are learning those harsh realities right at the start. When we’re still struggling to get an education.