If you have been anywhere near the United Kingdom during the last fifteen years, you may have noticed the proliferation of universities – and consequently students – across our towns and cities. Today, there are more students in higher education than ever before, and because of the sudden surge in student numbers, there are a few changes that maybe we as a society have yet to adapt to. Amongst the most pressing issues for us students ourselves is undoubtedly that of independence in our early twenties.
As students, most of us live away from home during semester-time, during which periods we are free to do exactly as we please. We go out on ‘school nights’ and walk home at 4am. We can skip lectures without anyone either knowing or caring and can request deadline extensions with a simple email. We stay up stupidly late for no apparent reason, downloading movies and baking at 2am purely because we feel like it. We can leave the house with no comment as to skirt length or absence of hat, we eat whatever we like, drink however we please, and take spontaneous trips across town, to other cities, into the mountains or even abroad.
Yet when we go home, we must undergo a process of adaptation. Mealtimes are a more accepted concept. So is a vague bedtime. (At home, it seems to be an accepted fact that nine nights out of ten, everyone will a) be home, and b) be in bed before 1am.) When the snow hits, we are forbidden by our parents to drive. We become dependent on them for lifts. And laundry. Whilst it’s nice not to have to do it ourselves, isn’t it a bit of a pain to have to ask where that black dress you put in the wash last week actually IS? Prior engagements are made for you, disrupting your plans for an evening out at the pub with your friends.
Don’t get me wrong, being at home in the holidays definitely has its perks. I for one adore my family, and there is something wonderful about reading my baby sister a bedtime story before movie nights and popcorn fights with my Mom, Dad and brother. You can walk in from the cold to find a warm house thanks to the presence of actual central heating. Housework is no longer exclusively your domain, and there is a dishwasher to deal with that pile of washing-up that no one wants to do. Your shampoo is bought for you and you can scrounge bus fare from the parental units. You have no worries about what you will eat for dinner as the fridge is fully stocked. Plus there is a widescreen TV. Enough said. It’s just that is can be difficult to balance the comforts of going home with the independence we are used to at university.
But then how far does this independence really go? For members of our generation, it is generally accepted that in addition to the dreaded maintenance loans and part time jobs, the vast majority of us are still dependent on an allowance from our parents in order to pay our rent and basically make ends meet – at least until we graduate at some point in our early twenties. After that, many students have little choice but to move home as they start their careers, simply because they cannot afford to do otherwise. You therefore have a significant proportion of the nation’s twenty-somethings living in a state of forced parental dependency, struggling to adapt to life at home after years of conceited independence in halls or student houses. Is it tragic, or just a reflection of the times we live in? Is it better to lose some of the independence we pride ourselves on than to struggle to make ends meet in a grotty flat above a fish-and-chip shop? Quite possibly. But then the hope is, for all of us, that when we ace our degree courses and land the dream jobs, we can achieve a real independence, free of loans and glorified pocket-money, and make a path for ourselves that our parents can be proud of, not burdened by.