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Manchester Metropolitan University Freshers Week
Nik Hartley

In photos: Freshers week for Manchester fashion students

Last week, photographer Nik Hartley captured the first social of the year for Manchester Metropolitan University’s fashion society

Last week, photographer Nik Hartley headed to Manchester to capture a freshers week event hosted by the fashion society at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). “The atmosphere was really good. Everybody was very enthusiastic and friendly,” Hartley tells Dazed. “When I do projects like this, I’m trying to celebrate the individual. I was hoping to find self-expression, diversity, the untapped potential of youth, naive enthusiasm – and I mean that as a positive! Naievety is often seen as a negative, but I don’t think that it is.”

Hartley himself studied photography at Blackpool College, but spent a lot of time in Manchester as a student as his then-girlfriend (now-wife) went to university at MMU. “When I was looking for universities to do this project with, Manchester Met was top of my list,” he says. “Manchester is a great city to be a student in. I was very happy to be back.”

I’ve got very few happy memories of Blackpool but at the weekend, I’d go to Manchester to see my girlfriend, and it was like ‘thank God’,” he recalls. “We’d go out to nice bars, restaurants, listen to live music, go shopping and get cheap clothes that felt like they were really cool at the time. It was a great place to be a student, I’m sure it’s as good if not better than it was all those years ago.”

Like so many creatives, Hartley eventually ventured down to the capital and spent 17 years living in London. “I love London, it’s brilliant,” he says. “But it is nice to see things going on outside of London [...] I’m very pro-north.”

“It was really nice to be at an event in the north of England with young creative people, and for them to be so excited and at the start of the rest of their life,” he continues. “It’s such a gamble to go and do a degree in something like fashion or photography or acting, but to have taken the gamble and to be there in this exciting city… yeah, it was really, really good.”

Are there any ways being a student in Manchester has changed since Hartley was there? “They’re much cooler than my generation, I think, the Gen Zs,” he says. “I’m really encouraged when I meet and speak to 17- or 18-year-olds now. They don’t give a shit: they’re not like, ‘Oh, you’re this or that, therefore we need to be horrible to you or we won’t be your friend’ or whatever bullshit my generation and the generations older than me seem to obsess about. Everybody seems much cooler and much more happy to live and let live, and surely that’s what we’re all supposed to do.”

Perhaps a less encouraging change is the growing price of going to university. As tuition fees soar and the cost of living careers wildly out of control, there’s been increasingly urgent conversations about whether going to university is really worth it anymore. In any case, the current government seems dead set on clamping down on creative courses, and announced plans to cap the number of students doing degrees where graduate employment levels are low (unemployment rates are highest among creative arts graduates: 6.5 per cent are unemployed, compared to the average of 5.9 per cent). Does Hartley think it’s still worth it? “I’m conflicted on that,” he says. “Reducing unemployment figures and creating revenue for the country by putting young people in massive debt is a concern for me.”

“I think it’s too expensive in this country. I don’t think it’s fair,” he continues. “I don’t think it’s morally justifiable when those institutions are obviously so rich as a consequence, and some of those young people are coming out and they’re still having to get an ‘unskilled’ job because there aren’t enough jobs in the field that they are qualified in.” But the life experience, Hartley stresses, is invaluable. “Still, it’s useful, it’s fun. It’s a great opportunity to live on your own and to get away from your parents and to make a few mistakes and learn how to boil an egg and whatever,” he says. “University is just really good, isn’t it?”

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