Students: Then VS Now

Louise Fisher

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Our office is in Headingley, in between Leeds Beckett’s Headingley campus and the University of Leeds. In September, from our window, we watch the influx of students and parents stock up on stationery and toilet roll at Sainsbury’s and Wilkos, friendships form at traffic lights and the Otley Run (18 pub crawl) pass at about 5 pm most Wednesdays in September.

Over the last decade, we’ve been able to see student life from both outside the campus and in. When we film with students, we spend the day with them, asking questions and getting to see everything that’s important to them and their experience of university.

A lot has changed over those years. So as September and the new intake approaches, it’s time to get nostalgic and consider some of the ways students have changed from 2009 to 2019.

1. Students today are very media aware

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When we film with students, we always ask them to not look at us sat behind the camera, but to look into the lens (creating a better connection with the viewer.) In the past, this was a constant challenge to get right, with many takes delivered again because students would look up for confirmation that they’d done a good job.

Now, students just get it. They know that if they mess up a line, they pause and deliver it again, knowing that we can edit it out. They instinctively look into the camera, channelling their inner YouTuber. And universities are realising the power student to student communication has.

2. Students today are more aware of their health

10 years ago, regularly going to the gym was reserved for the rugby lads and the ultra-competitive, fitness-obsessed students. Now, it’s commonplace, with gym sessions nestled neatly into a student’s already busy schedule.

We experienced this a few years ago producing Tom’s Wild Week for our ASRA 2017 presentation. All students knew the importance of regular exercise, a balanced alcohol intake and particularly now, the importance of looking after your mental health.

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3. Students today are more aware of their online image

Facebook had just come out in the UK when I was in 2nd year of university. I remember calling it “a worse version of MySpace” probably because you couldn’t add a horrendous background gif and autoplay music on your profile.

The unfiltered antics of nights out captured on a camera (separate to your phone) would be uploaded onto Facebook the next day, with rapid tagging of friends looking very worse for wear. Try and find those kinds of images on Instagram today. Instead, only the perfect poses are released online, the carefully curated moments from nights out. Students are very aware of their online identity and the permanence this brings when thinking about life after graduation.

4. Students today are thinking ahead to life beyond uni

From the students we’ve worked with, both as interns and on shoots, we’ve found that many of them are concerned with their world post uni. They know that getting a degree now isn’t enough.

Alongside regular work experience and internship placements, each year, we provide mentorship opportunities with University of Leeds' students.

Even if students don’t know exactly what they want to do after uni, they know that planning for it while they’re at uni is important for them to be set apart from their peers.


5. Students today feel an enormous amount of pressure

I remember my uni days being a breeze. There was a general consensus that third year was the only one that really mattered. It didn’t really matter what degree you came out with, it was a degree.

Now, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Students are feeling the pressure of huge debt, academic success, part time work, work experience, maintaining relationships, ending relationships and the image of living their best life. You can feel the pressure when you talk to them.

We’ve seen it in the increase for wellbeing support and the drop out rates at the start of the academic year. More needs to be done to prepare students for life at uni. To reset their high expectations and ease the pressure they feel when they’re simply wanting to become a better version of themselves.

But that’s enough looking back. It’s time to look forward to the upcoming September intake and learn what they want from their experience of university, learn what support they need and help them make their experience the best it can be.