Remember Me?

10 03 2010

Aware as I am about my lack of blogging in recent months, I shall try (amidst work, and studying, and volunteering, and applying for better jobs, and sleeping) to blog more frequently from now on.

This time last year I was involved in the successful campaign to get one of my friends elected into one of the Sabb Officer positions within the University’s Guild (of which, I’m aware, I’ve been less than receptive in the past). The two weeks spent campaigning were brilliant and tiring. The result was close but a testament to both sides.

And now it is all happening again. Which has raised two questions in my mind. Firstly, where the hell has the time gone this past year? And secondly, why the hell do I know so very little about anybody running for any of the roles within the Guild? After all, I am still a student at the university, and as such do still have the right to a vote in such issues, especially for positions which may affect me. I will, at this point, hold my hands up and admit that this is my last year at the University, I will graduate in December, but will not be an official student there beyond July. However, this isn’t the point. The point is, I want to vote, but know nothing about anyone running.

My trouble seems to be two-fold. The first is that I’m a post-grad student, who, it seems, are more frequently ignored by the candidates than the people within the Guild would care to admit. It is acknowledged that us post-grads are a part of the uni, but make up a small percentage of students, so do not warrant any attention. The second part of my problem is that I’m a part-time student. Meaning I’m on campus roughly once a month. This means therefore that I am exposed to very little of the university life, the university politics, or the university’s students. These two things mean I know little about the candidates, who is running for which positions, and why I should consider voting for them. I accept these things are a problem.

However, the Guild, the candidates, or whoever could make my life easier. I have been sent no official email from the Guild to my university email address. I have received two facebook messages (both telling me to attend events I cannot possibly make) about the elections, but nothing more. I have not received any other messages, or emails to tell me about the elections. It is only because I know that they are on that I have checked out the Guild’s page on the candidates, although, admittedly, I haven’t really ‘read’ the information yet.

All of which means that those students, post-grad or otherwise, who do not know about the elections, will obviously not have a democratic voice. I know there are members of my course who are not on Facebook (mainly because they are the top side of 40). I also know that they all have a uni email address. It’s set up right at the start, and is for university related emails. So why has no-one from the Guild twigged that just by sending a simple reminder to all students via the university’s email system, they could maybe gather just a few more votes and make it so that the continually low voter turnout is maybe helped, albeit by just a few more votes.

I accept that I’m out of the loop a little here, but there are things that the Guild could, and should be doing to make it easier for me to know about and to vote in the elections.


Growing Up…

22 12 2009

The good thing about blogging is that you can find out what people have searched for in order to arrive at your site. For me this causes much merriment as at the moment I am receiving hits from people searching for “bobcats for sale” and, perhaps even more bizarrely, “comebacks for innuendos about sausages”. I cannot recall ever having posted about either of those subjects, directly or otherwise. Of course I welcome the readers, but am afraid that having arrived at the ‘Field looking for bobcats you may leave disappointed. Naturally I will tag this post with both ‘bobcats’ and indeed ‘sausages’, meaning that you are more likely to arrive here and read this post and be disappointed than you were before. It’s something of a catch-22.

Anyway, onto the real point of why I wanted to blog today when I’ve found a few spare minutes. I was in the pub last night chatting with a mate about many a thing and we moved onto, roughly, the idea of growing up, and how much we’ve grown up since both the first year of university, and indeed, since we have graduated. For me this is brought home by what I considered important then, and what I think of it now.

Take BULS for example. I hadn’t checked their blog for roughly six months until about a week ago, and aside from the painful new layout, the quality seemed to have tailed off into nothingness. Having checked it again today to see if this had improved, I instead find an appeal from the only current writer it seems asking where the conservative opposition which once lit up the comments on pretty much every article has now gone. I think the point is that the writer isn’t producing enough to keep people caring, nor is the style, written and otherwise, particularly appealing.

However, whereas once upon a time I would have had online debates on any given subject on both this blog, and the BUCF site, now I feel a sense of something else. It is a mixture of sympathy and pity. The trouble is that the stuff they are writing is the same stuff that can be found, articulated much better, on any number of websites, or in any number of newspapers. Thus their writing seems almost pointless. Obviously I remain encouraged that people are engaging with politics, and at university is a good place to develop and stimulate political opinion, however it is their continuing sense of self-importance which makes me feel sorry for them. They are small fry, part of a blogging statistic rather than the significant political player they would like to think they are.

Likewise I now look at the university’s Guild of Students, and think how much time I spent there, as well as the time I’ve spent thinking about how to improve it’s involvement in the university. It’s beginning to seem all a little pointless now though. For all intents and purposes I cannot say, from what I’ve seen, that the Guild as both a building and as an institution has developed significantly since when I first started university, despite all the posturing of the council, the officers and other such folk. The devil, I suppose is the scale of things. Whilst at university these things are the world, they involve everyone and need to be fed by the students in order to live. Once you are outside of this circle though there is this amazing thing called ‘the bigger picture’. You come to realise that your university life, your contribution, was nothing but a pointillist dot on a Seurat canvas.

In the world outside university, it matters not that you contributed to this or that, other than it being a CV filler of course. What matters is the person themself. How university has shaped you is more important than what you did whilst you were there. The lasting effect of ‘you’ is more important than being able to say ‘I wrote for the uni’s paper a couple of years ago’. It was important at the time, but it just isn’t anymore.

Discriminate This…

9 08 2009

So our esteemed temporary leader (with Harman out of the country the buck stops with him) Lord Mandleson has announced he is considering the idea of giving poorer students a grade boost to help them compete for places at top universities.

This is rubbish.

All this idea does is confirm the view that there is a problem with access to education. It does nothing to provide a sensible long-term solution to the matter. It is yet more proof that positive discrimination is live and kicking in the UK at the moment. I have written about this before, and it is still something which really irks me.

Ok, so there is a problem with who has access to various levels of education. Again, I have written about the growing pressures on the university system before. However, a short-term, blind-sighted view that Mandleson appears to be appropriating here seems so painfully naive. It is simply a quick fix, designed more as a vote winning suggestion than anything substantial to do with policy. I say that for two reasons. The first is simple, the Labour party need all the votes they can get at the up-coming election. By throwing this into the water, they have something with which to attract voters back with.

The second reason seems equally simple, but therein lies my own concerns. It is simply that the idea seems very unconsidered. As the BBC article points out, there is a whole middle group of society who will suffer more from this idea and will be outcast from the better universities simply because there would be a quota of poorer students who ‘have’ to go to any given university. Finally there is the problem of what to do with those richer students/families who study hard, get good grades but have to go to universities lower in the rankings simply because the government has decided that it needs a greater social mix at the top universities.

The suggestion is ludicrous, and shouldn’t get any further than this. However, it will, if not in this form, then in some other. And it will remain stupidly annoying. Positive discrimination is here to stay as long as the Labour party decree it so and lead by such a poor example. It will never, ever solve any problems, and will always be a short-term solution to a larger, longer-term issue. It is nothing more than a daub of paint casually thrown at a wall to hide the two-foot wide crack.

Education Stimulation…

18 02 2009

The news today that more and more people are wanting to study at university given the current economic climate comes as no great surprise to me. After all, it was over ten years ago we were promised that half of all A Level students would be going to university. Given the huge downturn in the job market (something I myself am hugely frustrated by), it seems university is the only option for people with scant few other options. This is aided by the provision of loans to students with the proviso that they do not need paying back until the student is earning £15,000 pa. Indeed, it seems university is the only option for many.

The trouble is, there remains a cap on the numbers of students admitted to any one place. Hence why there are only so many places available on any given course. This cap is fine if the numbers of students applying to university remains roughly constant. However, with both the encouragement from the government and the current problems, this number hasn’t remained constant at all. It has risen by 8% for the next academic year. Thus, there is 8% more people competing for the same number of places. There is a presumption here that these candidates will be (generally) applying for the more mid-range universities, rather than the established elite universities. Therefore, the increased competition will be felt keenest at precisely the levels where the competition is already the greatest. A quick scan of UCAS’s website shows that generally, over the past five years, applications have increased, indeed, since 2003 they have increased by roughly 15%, and the number of applicants by 12%. Of the 534,495 applicants in 2007, 413,430 were accepted onto courses. In other words, roughly 23% of candidates were not successful with their applications. This figure is worse than it was in 2003, where it was roughly 21%.

If therefore we map such figures onto next year, we are told “The number of people wanting to study undergraduate courses at UK universities this autumn has risen by 8%. I take this to mean that there are 8% more applicants than last year. So, here’s the math: there is an average growth of 2.75% in applicants for the past five years [more if you ignore the anomalous year of 2006, I didn’t], meaning there would be 564,296 applicants for 2009 [549,194 in 2008]. Which means there would be roughly 432,476 successful applicants.

This is without the extra 8% of applications. Add this figure in and there would be 608,232 applicants. If we assume that the percentage unsuccessful remains the same, there would be 466,149 successful applications. That’s an extra 33,673 people who are rejected from university. Whilst therefore it is true that universities are accepting more people on their courses, the rate of increase is not enough to accomodate the extra 8%. Indeed 142,083 people will not get into university.

There are likely to be numerous reasons for this, but it is clear that the added competition will do nothing to help the situation. This problem, coupled with the inflexibility of the cap of the number of people, means that many will suffer. Those who are applying for the mid-range universities (a quick glance at 2007’s list of numbers applying for individual universities seems to confirm my view) will be the ones forced to suffer the most, as they will have to accept places at universities which may not have been their number one choice, or even number two. This means that they will be taking places at universities asking for lower grades. By definition, these universities are the ones which are not as good as the higher placed ones in league tables.The impact that this could have upon their future careers is hard to say, but it is clear there will be an impact (If, for example, you are an employer and have two candidates with the same degree, but one was from, for example, Kings College London, and the other was from Sandwell College, who would you pick?).

For those people aiming towards the bottom, it seems that they will be the ones to miss out entirely. They will be forced off the bottom rung of the ladder, and will have to seek work after their A Levels, something which is no easy task at the best of times, never mind in the middle of an economic crisis.

As I see it, the remedy to the problem is to relax the cap. This is not to say “remove it all together”, but allowing more people in would help out in the long run. However, this is too idealistic, many universities cannot cope with extra numbers of students, there is not the accomdation, or the teaching staff, or the space. It seems there is potentially a bigger problem emerging then. It also seems that the hope of putting half the student population through university has proven to be poorly thought out. A simple increase in the number of universities will do little to remedy a problem at the other end of the academic spectrum. Of course more students means a need for more accomodation, it’s inevitable. Universities can just about keep up if the increase in the numbers is slow but constant. When however, an extra 8% are dumped into the mix, someone, somewhere will lose out. And not just someone, some 33,673.