Monday, 18 January 2010


1. Back in 1999 I'd fallen into working as a self-employed social researcher, and needed to update my skills, so I enrolled for a Masters degree in Social Research Methods. I was told the course had been approved by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) so I would be able to apply for funding from them if I chose to go on and do a PhD. Two years later I wanted to do that very thing, so I sorted out the paperwork and took it to my course tutor for him to complete. He contacted me a few days later and shamefacedly told me that someone at his university had failed to fill in a form, which meant in practice that the course had not been approved by the ESRC, and so I could not apply for funding from them unless I did another year of full-time study of social research methods. As nobody else funds social science PhDs, I had to either do the extra year or fund my own PhD. At the time, this was a major blow.

2. Even longer ago, when my sister was a young single parent with a four-year-old son, she decided to do a degree at a university which promised lots of support for single parents: full-time childcare in a registered nursery; accommodation on campus throughout; all lectures and tutorials during nursery hours; and several other family-friendly policies. When she got there, she found that much of this wasn't true: accommodation on campus was only guaranteed for the first year; several of her lectures and tutorials were in the evening, when her son needed her to be at home; and so on. She lasted for two years of a four-year degree, during the second of which she lived off campus, and then gave up the struggle.

3. Just this year, my nephew, now all grown up, is about to finish a two-year further education course. At the start, he was told that it would provide a qualification equivalent to A levels, which would enable him to get onto a degree course with a foundation year. Last week, as he was finishing his UCAS form, he was told that this was not the case. Due to someone's administrative error, he will now have very little to show for two years of hard work and poverty. He is understandably angry and feels that he has been lied to - which, effectively, he has - and, with universities' funding being cut, he is now wondering whether he has any chance of a place at all.

So has my family simply been unlucky? Or is this kind of bums-on-seats-at-any-cost, administratively inefficient, misleading way of 'selling' courses actually endemic throughout the further and higher education systems in the UK?


Bernadette said...

What a series of misfortunes and how upsetting and frustrating for you all.

I can't comment on your experiences, but from my own teaching in adult education I think a large part of the problem lies in the constantly changing rules and regulations regarding funding and required admin. It makes the whole system more prone to human error and a small mistake on an administrator's part can make a huge difference to someones life and career.

Though none of that explains your sister's case - that just sounds like lying!

JJ Beattie said...

Bloody hell. What a catalogue of disasters.

I worked in higher ed about 200 years ago. Underfunding, understaffing, mismanagement, and absolutely what Bernadette said above.

It's not okay though.

Pat said...

Which ever way you look at it you all have been unlucky. Perhaps the powers that be didn't plan for people actually wanting to take advantage of the opportunities offered. Bummer!

Anonymous said...

That certainly is a sequence of bad luck, which seems a bit out of proportion for one family. Let's hope the sequence has come to an end. I bet you check all your facts carefully these days!

womagwriter said...

Sounds like the result of too much bureaucracy. And those I know who work in higher education are often moaning about the red tape and amount of admin they have to do. Shame the customer, ie the student, is not put first by these institutions and course administrators.

Shane said...

There was a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study, from a few years ago, about 'Working Class Drop-Out' from universities (Quinn et al, I think). In that study, one of the main themes of those ex-students' talk, was that 'the course wasn't what I expected it to be'. On close inspection, this wasn't so much about students not 'getting' what the course was about, but was rather a case of universities' late-in-the-day cobbling together courses that were somewhat related to the originally advertised course. To me, the most interesting, and perhaps saddening, detail from that research, was that those former students did not speak in terms that seemed aggrieved, but in terms that seemed to suggest that they thought that this was just how it happens to be in higher education (there tended to be no familial HE experience to compare with). Whilst good for the young peoples' collective blood pressure, a useful let-off for the HE institutions, too.

Debs said...

How horribly frustrating and upsetting for all of you. Especially as these occurrances seem to be because someone else didn't do their job properly.

Anonymous said...

how horrible - and how believeable... I'm sorry you've all been through this.

Anonymous said...

As someone who works in an FE College which also offers HE courses, I am constantly astounded by the amount of misinformation out there. I think as someone said earlier the rules change constantly regarding admissions.

Part of my job is to advise students wishing to come onto foundation degrees. Often if you are over 21 actual academic qualifications are not as relevant as industry/work experience. It might be an idea for your nephew to try and get some work experience linked to the area that he would like to work in. That way he would be in a much better position to convince admissions staff that he is serious about the course.

It would also mean he would have a better idea of what working in the industry is really like and so can decide if it is really for him. Also, a regular complaint of teaching staff is that we get students who come straight from school/college and so have no real workplace experience or nothing to relate what is being taught to them.

Hope this helps!

Carol said...

It's not just you!!

I was told that my lectures would be one evening and one day a week, that they would run consecutively, that not working whilst studying was not a problem and that I would get help to pay for it!

The reality - It's two evenings a week, they don't run consecutively, I have to work in order to fulfil some of the requirements of the course, it's costing twice as much as I had originally been told and there is no financial help what-so-ever!! Oh, and the communication has been absolutely shocking!! The course itself and the lecturers are great but the process surrounding it have been laughable...

If I had run my company like that I would have lasted about three seconds!!

C x

Queenie said...

Goodness me, that struck a chord! I rather hope an investigative journalist might come across this post and its comments one day, because it seems to me the whole thing could do with being sorted out. As JJ so rightly says, it's not OK.

Anonymous, thank you for your suggestions; I'll be passing those on.