To tackle digital deprivation, Sophia Smith argues that the university should provide WiFi access for students separated from campus.
Like many others I’m currently studying at home, missing my West End flat. The privacy and adultness of it all seems like a distant memory. I’m starting to forget what the reading room looks like, and I can’t fully remember how to get to the McIntyre building. But home is cosy, even if it does mean sharing a house with four adults all working from home. Other than the occasional faulty WiFi moment, usually spurred on by my brother’s Xbox, the house's resources are more than adequate. This, however, can’t be said for everyone studying at home.
Coronavirus has highlighted a myriad of problems throughout the UK’s social fabric, exposing the alarming divides and problems the country faces, many of which have been overlooked and under investigated in the years before the pandemic. One facet of deprivation many are facing during Covid-19 is digital exclusion. With many being told to work from home, and almost all students during the current lockdown restrictions receiving their education online, one thing is clear: our dependence on the internet can’t be ignored. From the start of social distancing measures being implemented in the UK, garnering any semblance of productivity or normality has only been possible with access to the internet and digital technologies. Meaning those without any or adequate resources have lost access to their education and opportunities.
Many students this semester are working from home after being discouraged from returning to campus, which means many are left without the resources and internet they would usually have access to. Coupled with the steep increase of public library closures over the past decade, many have nowhere to turn in order to get adequate access to stream all their seminars and lectures. Given this large disadvantage, many may be wondering why we’re still paying the same enormous fees, especially when there are no current provisions in place in order to bridge the digital divide among students.
Previously, your WiFi speed would be a nuisance when streaming movies, or downloading large files. Now, a slow broadband speed is dramatically hindering your ability to take part in your education. Speaking to some people on my course, many have felt embarrassed when it comes to talking over Zoom due to the quality of their wifi or picture on their webcam. And with the added bonus of seminar contribution marks looming over their heads, the already stressful experience of online university has now become an opportunity for tutors to judge students' abilities essentially on the quality of their WiFi and resources. In recent seminars, I’ve witnessed many students being scolded for not having their microphone or camera working properly, with the tutor threatening their seminar contribution grade if they couldn’t get it working. Not only do some students not have adequate WiFi, we aren’t all lucky enough to have a sufficient place in which to study. Many have younger siblings to look after, parents to care for, crying babies in the same room as them as they’re trying to engage in a seminar discussion. Students working during a pandemic already have enough to worry about, access to wifi shouldn’t be added to that.
It’s been debated for many years whether or not access to the internet should be a human right. However, Covid-19 has proved just how important internet access is; it’s swiftly changed from a luxury to a vital part of our lives, integral to our ability to adapt during the pandemic. Considering all this, surely the £9,000 some students are spending every year on their degree should cover the cost of providing fast reliable WiFi from the university. The resources I was promised on my open day are now out of reach, yet I’m still paying the same amount. As a third year Literature student, the resources on the ninth floor of the library are quite an important and exciting aspect of studying at Glasgow University - my family home in Warrington, unfortunately, doesn’t boast such amenities.
Provisions should be put in place or at least offered to those with internet access problems. If our WiFi isn’t strong enough for us to access our online education, then what are we paying for? Nearly ten grand a year for the luxury of sitting in our childhood bedrooms? Not to mention the WiFi we’re paying for in our Glasgow flats we’re now not allowed to go back to. If I’m paying triple the amount for a normal online degree, I strongly believe there should be measures put in place to ensure I can, at the very least, access said degree.
Establishing free WiFi provisions is something that should have been quickly initiated at the start of the first lockdown, not something that is only just beginning to be “talked” about a year later.
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