The media is obsessed with millennials being more entitled than previous generations, what with all those years of praise, encouragement, and social media. It’s a great rhetoric: we’re all narcissistic nightmares, who are too obsessed with our personal brand and too lazy to put our heads down and memorise things that we could easily Google.
Maybe we are more entitled, but I don’t think that it’s a bad thing. I don’t think millennials have an expectation of having things handed to us, but we are instead more willing to fight for things than generations before us who weren’t so hell-bent on changing the world.
I’ve been at Imperial for a long time, and when I started there were still students filtering through the system who paid only £1,000 of tuition fees a year. I paid just over three grand a year, and while I will obviously be paying this back for the next couple of decades, I don’t think I got a bad deal. The teaching might not all have been great (some may have been terrible) but we just got on with it and ultimately I graduated with a very reputable Master’s degree that certainly has increased my lifetime earning potential far more than the student loan I’ve amassed. But this was back in 2008, and now higher education is a lot more expensive for a set of young people who are far more socially aware and informed than I ever was at their age.
Of course, I’m part of the generation that was heartbroken by the Lib Dem betrayal when tuition fees shot up. With English degree debt now the highest in the world, the average student paying £9,000 a year for university can expect to owe more than £44,000 by the time they graduate. This increase made much more of a difference than the small and gradual fee rises that crept up before. Although theoretically there are more student loans, bursaries, and there is more support available now, paying that much for university is a big deal, and students are expecting a lot more for their money.
Thanks to a greater collective awareness, post-£9000 students have mobilised, demanding higher quality teaching than the years of students before them ever got. They’re getting aggro at poor feedback, suing universities over inadequate supervision, and generally throwing their toys out of the pram about not getting what they think they deserve. Do you think that we had the privilege of watching Panopto lectures in bed while annotating the conveniently distributed course handouts on our iPads? We had to show up at 9am and copy down notes from a blackboard while trying not to choke on chalk dust if we sat near the front. We didn’t have guaranteed feedback within two weeks, and we had barely any contact hours that didn’t consist of sitting with 250 other people in a lecture theatre, and we didn’t complain.
But do you know what? We were fucking stupid not to do so. A lot of the poor teaching we had was subpar to the point of unacceptable, with lecturers being prevented from teaching after they’d doomed a whole class to an average exam mark that was scaled up to 40% and an often completely nonsensical course structure.
Poor teaching isn’t the fault of lecturers who don’t care about students. It’s difficult for teaching staff. I’ve seen both sides and I get it. Teaching staff are overworked because, to oversimplify, College prioritises research over teaching. It brings in more money, and it makes a bigger impact on our global reputation. But College wouldn’t exist were it not for the students, who have the ability to lobby for change as they effectively hold College to ransom. There has been so much development and change in the teaching standards at Imperial over the last few years as more and more students have become entitled enough to ask for it, but the quality of teaching is still hugely variable.
I have so much admiration for the students who came after me who took control of their education and fought for better teaching. The ones who are bothered to fill out SOLE and tear any terrible teaching to shreds; the ones who leave feedback and ask for more resources; the ones who have stood up and lobbied College to give them value for money; they have absolutely earned the better teaching that they are getting (although of course, there is still a long way to go).
But at the same time, many of the students who came after me are little shits who seem to be chronically unable to check their emails and reply appropriately like the adults they are. For all their internet literacy, they seem to be too lazy to read the handouts carefully or perform a basic Google search before running to teaching staff, or to stop scrolling Instagram to give their full attention to a tutorial. You deserve of a good education, but you are not entitled to being spoon-fed the answers, and university is a step up from school where you do have to manage your own learning to some extent. Having identified a valid demand, some students are regressing back into schoolchildren, forgetting that when you come to university you have to at least pretend to be a grownup and not waste the time of those providing your education.
Those who shit on millennials are wrong – we aren’t entitled because we’ve always been handed things on a plate. We are becoming increasingly entitled because we realise that if we want to get anything we have to demand it and fight for it, and the more connected we all are, the easier this becomes. Channel your deserved entitlement into fighting for a better education, but don’t think that a better education means that anyone is going to do the work for you.