A Response to: Why I wish I’d dropped out of university @independent
January 9, 2013 1 Comment
I rarely get chance to blog anymore, the reasons for which should become evident during the course of this article. But, sometimes I read a story or article so utterly infuriating I feel compelled to write. Otherwise I fear the rage will remain within, which can’t be good for the blood pressure.
Today’s culprit is this article in The Independent, entitled Why I wish I’d dropped out of university by Tim Clist. I was intrigued by the headline and expected an interesting read, what I got was a very annoying read.
Tim basically starts of by describing his three years at Warwick University as “the worst three years of my life”. ‘Oh no’, I thought sympathetically, ‘something awful must have happened which made university a real struggle for him – serious depression, a family tragedy, a personal tragedy’ etc etc. No. The main reason why this was the “worst three years” of a young man’s life was basically because he got a bit bored. In his words:
I studied English, after switching from history. I had seminars of 12 people in lecturers’ offices no bigger than an average garden shed, a seven-hour a week timetable for 17 weeks a year, unfriendly and rarely available lecturers and tedious, rambling lectures.
University was like experiencing the shock of retirement, suddenly having hours and hours of free time to fill. The boredom and apathy that a seven-hour week induces should not be underestimated.
The sheer horror.
Now, as somebody who has completed an undergraduate degree and is currently undertaking a postgraduate degree, I’d say it was quite normal to only have around 7 hours of actual teaching per week, at least in the humanities/cultural studies/social sciences areas, I don’t know about other disciplines. This is because you are expected to do a large amount of reading and research on your own, plus your assignments and dissertation. You could easily fill up your time by completing core reading, optional reading and really making the effort to do individual research, which you are expected to do if you study at university level because you are supposed to have a real interest in your chosen subject. A lecturer isn’t there to spoon feed you every aspect of your course.
I find it extremely hard to feel any sympathy for Tim because I, like many others, worked 20 – 30 hours a week whilst doing my undergraduate degree and am now working several days a week whilst completing my MA. I dearly wish I could have had more free time as an undergraduate, and now, because I could dedicate that time to extra studying or joining one of my university’s clubs or societies. If I’d had the luxury of not working as an undergraduate I would have loved to have got more involved in university life and perhaps found some interesting work experience. I’d love to have more free time now just to study more because I really enjoy research, but heigh ho, that’s life. Nobody was stopping Tim getting a job, finding work experience, doing volunteer work or joining a club. Unless I am wrong and somebody locked him in a room for the remaining 161 hours per week.
Tim goes on to blame his not getting a First on the fact his boredom resulted in demotivation and apathy. One would suggest that Tim could have eased his boredom by taking up one or more of the activities I have suggested above. He spends more time attacking the quality of teaching staff:
The dearth of lectures and seminars meant they really would have had to be of a high standard to make the whole experience worthwhile, but this was not the case.
One elderly tutor would ramble, eyes shut, for an hour in a way only loosely connected with the subject; one told us that seminars were all about what we could teach each other (which raised the question of what exactly she was being paid for) and left us to it; and one likeably eccentric man would hold forth on where the best tailors could be found in Modena, and other sundry irrelevant subjects.
Why Tim never raised a complaint with his course representative or department, if the lecturers were really so dire, is a question without an answer. Also, just as a 7 hour a week teaching schedule is normal so is working in seminar groups. This is to encourage students to do the requisite reading and learn how to formulate ideas and opinions. I have always found that a lot can be learned from seminars with your peers and debates can be extremely interesting and stimulating. They are not so the lecturer can slack off, as Tim seems to think.
In my three years, only two of my courses had well-run, productive, interesting seminars where there was genuine debate and interest.
Umm, surely the standard of debate depends on those contributing?
Tim then attacks Warwick’s place in the University league tables, basically accusing them of using suspect means to achieve such good placing. Now, I actually know alumnus of Warwick and current students and have never heard them make the same criticisms as Tim. They all seem satisfied that it is a good university. I presume if it were so easy to achieve a high league table ranking all the universities would be doing it. His arguments are extremely thin in this section, which rather suggest he should have spent more of his abundant free time at university learning how to formulate a valid, evidence-based argument.
He ends with:
So what lesson can be drawn? My three years at Warwick University were a waste of time. Had I known at the start what I know now I would have dropped out. If you start university and don’t like the lecturers, people and culture, drop out. Go and do something that you enjoy and are enthused by. You will be doing yourself a favour.
I would really question if this individual should be in a position to be offering such advice. I would really hate to think a teenager would read this article and be put off attending university because of the wafer thin arguments of one attention seeking male. It also makes me wonder, why didn’t he drop out? If it was really so unbearable and the lecturers were so awful and nobody cared about student welfare why didn’t he leave? Or, a better question, why did he never raise a single complaint during his time at Warwick? Their response indicates he never once complained whilst on his course:
“It’s a great pity if Tim Clist felt this strongly for three years without once raising his concerns with a tutor, student representative or an independent counsellor. Warwick has a number of mechanisms in place to ensure that complaints are heard fairly and, if something isn’t working, that it can be put right. It also has an effective pastoral support system to assist students in personal difficulties. Time and time again, these have been commended by the Quality Assurance Agency.
Tim Clist graduated with a 2.1 – a good degree. Both the English and history departments at Warwick are rated as “excellent” and regular student feedback demonstrates that Tim Clist’s experience of Warwick is far from typical
It’s pretty dubious to keep your bored silence for three years and then have an aggressive article published in the Independent, without so much as a preliminary complaint to the university. I have to ask how and why this article even ended up in the Independent? Why is this individual allowed column space to air their, frankly ridiculous, complaints and advise other people not to go to university?
For the record I really enjoyed my undergraduate degree, so much I saved up to do a MA degree, which I also enjoy very much and would encourage others to go to university if they feel this is right for them. Not to be put off by the advice of one gent because he couldn’t fill his own time adequately and has somehow, suspiciously, managed to get his whinging published in the Independent.
Now, I feel better for that outpouring. I shall return to my work whilst sighing and wishing wistfully that I had the time to be bored every now and then.
Note: The Independent article is not new but it appeared in my Facebook feed yesterday, so my annoyance is new.