Posted by: lucylastic | April 12, 2011

What sort of Uni?

I didn’t go to University- I could write a long essay on why not, but it boiled down to arrogant short-sightedness and a short-termist approach to spending money.  And the world was a very different place in 1978 – when I got a place on a ‘training programme’ sponsored by Unilever – and promptly spent the next 10 years of my life in part-time education – finally ending up with more qualification than if I had gone the Uni route in the first place – but that’s another story.

Now, it’s my younger son’s turn – am I really that old?  To have a son starting Uni seems a very grown up thing to be.  If older son had attended, he’d be finished by now, but that too, is another story…………………

So – how does a prospective attendee even get near a University?  Many of you will probably be familiar with UCAS and the concept of the ‘UCAS Visit Day’ – more of that in a minute…..

First, the mystery that is Univeristy application is not easy to comprehend – especially if you have a) a relatively uncommunicative child and b) have never done it yourself!  The UCAS system allows the prospective student to choose up to 5 University courses to apply for – all this is done WAY, WAY before final exams have been taken – and indeed, WAY, WAY before it’s finally dawned on said student that if they don’t pull their socks up, they won’t be going anywhere.  That might not matter so much, but the response from the Uni’s, (via UCAS) is based upon your college’s assessment of your final grades – ergo, if you haven’t been working very hard, the college predicts mediocre grades and the Uni takes one look at your application and ‘the compuer says ‘no’.

Prospective student son, E, turns out to be a few points short of the requirement for his favourite Uni, Bristol – so we are left with 4 choices.  Hull, (a long way from home); Coventry, (just doesn’t sound inspiring somehow), Kent, (a 1960’s Campus Uni) and Westminster, (sounds expensive to me).

So last week saw us trundling off to Canterbury – where the Kent Uni Campus sits in rolling downland overlooking this wonderful Cathedral City.  I have opted to travel the night before, as the thought of negotiating the M25 through rush hour leaves me cold.  It still takes well over 2 hours to cover the 140 miles from sunny Swindon.  First, the delights of a Canterbury Wetherspoons pub meal – it’s Tuesday, it’s steak night – for £5.99 one can purchase a steak and salad or veg and chips and a drink.  E thinks this is a bargain, I think his allowance won’t go very far!  Real world suddenly looms………

The Holiday Inn Express is clean and functional.  Why do I feel so gloomy……….?

We approach the campus – if E is nervous, he doesn’t show it.  I am nervous for some reason – will he like it, will it like him?  Will it be grim and scary?  Will the other students look intimidating?  Will the parents be snobbish and rude, or (worse) chavvy?  Who will look after my baby so far away?

The campus is hilly, they march us around for what seems like hours on the hottest day of the year to date, (and hard to beat I venture).  We see the library – lots of books – open till 3.00am during exam time – don’t they realise these students need to sleep?  How will they ever concentrate in exams if they’ve been up all night?  We see a variety of student accommodation – with real, live students in it to tell us everything we ever wanted to know…………first, a deluxe room – it feels like prison to me – small, (if this is deluxe, I can’t imagine ‘standard’), hardly any storage, spy holes on the doors, I don’t like it, but say nothing.  The girl whose room it is is smiling and charming towards what must be the ‘nth’ group of parents and offspring who march in and out, look at her small sapce and try and find something positive to say.  We see a ‘house’, it’s a bit better, at least there’s a shared kitchen diner that’s light and airy – you have to bring your own plates, cups, saucers, mugs, saucepans, ladles, spoons, everything.  And self-catering is ‘only’ £3600 – to £5000 per year, (big gulp – never mind the fees – no one tells you how much it costs just to live there)!  You can get all sorts of rooms with ‘meal deals’ including a ‘bed and bistro’ deal for £7500 per year – who one earth can afford this for their cherished child?  Looks like I’ll be abstaining from booze for far more than Lent at this rate.

It’s like a small town – everything is here – accommodation, the colleges, the library, sports halls, gyms, other outdoor games and interests.  Bars, shops, restaurants and convenience stores.  Banks and bookshops.  Spritual guidance if required and  the largest on-campus nightclub in the world.  A ‘proper’ theatre, open to the public as well – big name bands and entertainers – McFly are playing at the annual ball – not sure what to make of that.

Pros – it feels safe, crime is very low, (virtually non existent they tell us in the ‘parents and carers’ talk).  The staff and students seem friendly, everything a student might need seems to be here.  But the biggest ‘Con’ that strikes me is the unreality – the dis-connectedness from ‘real life’.  I can well imagine that 4 years down the road, my lovely, but actually often indolent son, E might never have even seen the delights of Canterbury – 15 minutes walk down the road.  The graduation ceremony takes place from the Cathedral  -so that’ll be the time!

It’s Westminster’s turn tomorrow – I’m not sure what to expect – their ‘day’ is from 2-4pm – it doesn’t seem like much time to decide if it’s the place for you.  Already I am prejudiced against it…………

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