It felt like the planets aligned for me in perfect orientation. It was the start of September and the job I’d been doing for a year came to an abrupt end. I didn’t know what to do next: I had been toying with the idea of a distance learning degree through the Open University, but the thought of six years studying didn’t appeal.
A brief telephone conversation with the University of Brighton’s admissions team, and suddenly over the course of a few days I found myself enrolled on a full-time bachelor’s degree course. Still in a state of shock, three weeks later I am sat in a lecture hall listening to the Vice Chancellor welcoming me and my fellow ‘freshers’ to the University of Brighton. Wow!
Even now at the end of three years of study it still feels a little bit surreal. I have loved every minute of it, but as a mature student (and single parent) it is a very different journey to most of the students you share lecture halls and laboratories with.
In a strange twist, my son and I began university courses at different institutions in the same week. He studied International Politics at Aberystwyth University, whilst I studied Earth & Ocean Science at Brighton. This gave me a unique insight in to the process he was going through, but also meant my fellow students were the exact same age as my own child.
Of the approximately 300 students in the School of Environment and Technology for our year group, I was the only one over 25 (and nearly double that age at that!) My fellow students were an amazing bunch of people, who I loved working and studying with, but the generational gap was ever present.
The teaching and support staff at the University of Brighton do an amazing job under increasingly difficult circumstances. On one hand you have a student body that struggles to turn up on time, and when they do: turn up 20, 30, 40 minutes late for a lecture; think nothing of walking to the front of the lecture room; noisily empty their bag; talk to their friends; and generally disturb the rest of the room, whilst encased in a shroud of their own self-importance and oblivious awareness of the disruption they are causing. I am neither religious or violent, but at those moments I was praying for the god Nemesis to perform her primary role and administer divine retribution on the moron interrupting my learning.
I felt true sympathy for the teaching and support staff at the University, battling unforgivable student behaviour on one side, whilst being undermined, undervalued and overworked by the University administration on the other. Like so many parts of the education system in the UK, the University system is now a profit-making business ran by accountants with academic excellence and research a very poor and distant second place.
Everything from the quality, ethos and work ethic of my fellow pupils, to the workload and pressures on the teaching staff describes a system where the only thing that counts is the numbers enrolled on a course, that are subsequently paying £9000+ each year each.
I need to make it very clear I am not attacking any individual within the contact staff at the University, they are individuals who are passionate and determined to do the best they can, but they are working within a system that rewards quantity over quality.
On a personal note, I need to say a huge personal thank you to the following people who have made my undergraduate experience a life changing, exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Dr Jake Ciborowski Pete Lyons
Magda Grove Dr Chris Carey
Dr Corina Ciocan Prof Chris Joyce
Prof David Nash Dr Annie Ockelford
Dr Ray Ward (apologies to anyone I missed off.)
When I enrolled as an undergraduate at the age of 47, I was already a little bit odd. Having worked well-paid jobs, and been completely unsatisfied with them, I had made the decision that personal fulfilment rather than financial gain would be my main motivator. But, as a single parent of two amazing children, and being their only financial support, it was only through their love and support that I could take us all through the arduous journey of undergraduate life in a society that does not respect education for its own sake, rather than as a tool to earn more money.
To my children Paige and Taylor, I can never thank you enough for your unwavering support.
Another thank you goes out to Heather, a very good friend who was always happy to help with my dissertation, in the sample collection process, regardless of the weather. She was always there to let me discuss findings and developments in my dissertation project, and most importantly was there to give me a kick up the arse when I thought I wasn’t good enough to do the work, when I doubted myself, or when I was just sick of the workload. Thank you.