Monday, September 09, 2013

Are You Ready For University ?

Sesame magazine
Sesame magazine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Following a wholly unscientific and biased study of assorted students, I'd have to say that the answer is both yes and no.  The Open University intake are ready, over-prepared even, the brick uni intake are lazing around, more interested in freshers than their course and are, mostly, a disgrace to the fine tradition that is a university education.

Now I know that this is only partly true. Many brick uni students are going to work very hard indeed as soon as they have got out of bed at 3pm and on the slim chance that their hangover will allow them to focus on their text books.

In the run-up to the new university year beginning, I am struck by the sometimes large organisational and motivational properties of the average OU student when compared to some ingoing brick uni students.

Here's a case in hand, Cody, name not changed to shame the guilty, is taking Criminology. When questioned about what preparatory work she had undertaken this summer she gave the interviewer a blank look, eventually followed by the question...

"Reading list ? What's a reading list ?"

Compare this to the informal Facebook forum for this years U214 and A150 modules. Both forums have been very active months before the opening date for the modules with students discussing strategies, study plans and getting to grips with the reading list. The OU doesn't actually give us a 'must read' list, but for A150 we know in advance that we'll have to get through Dickens' Hard Times towards December this year - the result being that half the intake read the novel during the summer.

The story is the same over in U214 Worlds Of English where the OU suggested that we might like to read some suggested titles. As this is a Year 2 module and the intake are already used to the pace of OU study and the personal drive it requires, this group have been even busier. The forum is alive with people recording that they have read and taken notes on most of the 'suggested' list, in addition the group have been tracking down podcasts, websites and useful video clips and exchanging them all summer. When the module actually opens in October we're going to be uber-organised.

Of course, the OU students have to be this organised. They are expected to study for a minimum of 16 hours a week, which is fine when you're a full time brick uni student with no other demands. The OU though is packed with people who are both full time workers and full time parents, their study has to fit around the dual challenges of raising a family and paying the bills. As always, I salute the working parents who are managing a degree in their spare time. Spare time being a relative term here.

Fran is going to train to be a teacher. Fran also doesn't know what a reading list is, but she assures me that the course she is enrolled on will teach her everything she needs to know. When she begins of course. Well, after Fresher's Week anyway.

The different attitude of the (mostly) more mature OU students brings a historically older perspective to study. Although many OU students have a career progression or change in mind with their degree, many OU students are engaged in study with the intention of improving their education and broadening their world view. This latter distinction used to be the driving force behind a university education, but one that has been consumed by the financial imperative.

Best wishes then to everyone starting or continuing their education this Autumn. No thanks though to the bloody Conservatives and their useless, two-faced Liberal allies. Thanks to the way the Government has changed university funding, many OU students have found themselves in the potentially over-worked situation of having to take two modules at the same time this year in order to comply with new funding rules. Thanks Cameron/Clegg, let me shake you both warmly by the throat if we ever meet up.

It's just under a month before our modules officially begin, but you'll be able to spot the OU intake quite easily if you look around, they're the ones trying to take notes on the train and the bus, frantically reaching for textbooks in their lunch hours, studying on holiday - early mornings - weekends - late nights.

6am Saturday morning and the kids are still in bed ? Might as well get that copy of Criticism and Truth off the shelf and take some notes, time and Barthes wait for no man.
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