Welcome to the Freshers of 2021
Each year, around about this time, I write a little article (like for 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017) that, just for a bit of fun, briefly points out the little disconnects in the generations between those of us working in HE, whether in teaching or in some other capacity, and the students who begin their journey in life as an undergraduate, as some of us did all those years ago. This year, like last, is going to be a strange one. This year’s freshers will start their University career in ways that few of us in living memory has ever had to experience. The difference probably even greater than last year. This year’s freshers will enter having gone through a full year of weird school times, teaching patterns and a whole range of mixed learning and teaching experiences, before the stress of results. Oh yes, and COVID again. The differences in their early times as students will be hugely influential on them in years to come, so, just like last year, we should be cutting them a little slack in the first steps on their adventure.
Many of this year’s Freshers were born in and around 2003, a year where Tony Blair was still Prime Minister, and had just begun the UK’s military excursion with the US into Iraq and Afghanistan that is only now ending.
They will never know a world in which there was only the proper, good version of The Italian Job, before someone foisted its witless, half-arsed namesake on us. And the man who made the original film possible, by helping them film in Turin, Gianni Agnelli, left us too.
They will never have lived in a world that Pioneer 10 was still transmitting signals back to, nor a world was still receiving them, and trying to listen.
And though we are now no longer part of the EU, they will never have lived in a Europe where Malta, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic (now Czechia), Lithuania and Estonia were not part of it. These nations all voted to join the EU in 2003. But then, for them, Yugoslavia has never existed either. There was an Erasmus scheme that UK students were actually able to particpate in to see all this for themselves.
Our freshers have never shared a world with Gregory Peck, Katherine Hepburn, Barry White, Bob Hope, Johnny Cash, Thora Hird or Bob Monkhouse. But they have always shared that world with Greta Thunberg. If they know the name Charles Bronson, it will be the notorious prisoner, not the actor from whom he took his name. To them, Canaan Banana will just be a comedy name, and not someone who would actually be mentioned on the news. Jeremy Vine has alsways been that annoying bloke on Radio 2 that their parents have on in their car at lunch time, and who they shout at when the callers are being such idiots.
Anyone mentioning the word Nemo before 2003 was probably waxing lyrical about Jules Verne, or a Latin speaker. They wouldn’t have been talking about a little lost clown fish.
The only time they’ll have ever seen Play your Cards Right, or the original Fifteen to One is on Challenge TV, or on nostalgia clip shows; they’ll have no idea who William G Stewart was, or why he was properly intimidating! On the plus side, they’ll never have had to sit through the scripted cringe that was Cilla Black’s Blind Date. Or Crossroads. They’ ll never have seen Brookside either, so they probably won’t understand dark jokes about patios. There has always been a BBC Three, whether online, or actually on TV (as it probably will be again soon). They’ ll have no idea who Curly Watts was, or why so many cared. They’ll never know a time where Arnold Schwarzenegger was just an “actor”. And they won’t have known a world without Love Actually being on TV every bloody Christmas.
There has always been T20 cricket, but there has never been a Concorde flying for real. Wayne Rooney and James Milner have always been in football, but they’ll never have seen Tony Adams or Peter Schmichel play.
For them there will never have been a time where they couldn’t binge-watch a boxset, or unfriend someone on social media (at the time there was no Facebook, or Twitter, but there was a nascent LinkedIn). The world was only just starting to see the first worries about viral pandemics resurface, as SARS was first reported. All of those words first entered the dictionaries, along with botnet, darmstadtium, muffin top, flash mob, and manscaping as this year’s freshers entered the world.
It’s a mixed bag really, so be gentle with them.