For over a year now I have attempted to erase from my mind the seeds of doubt scattered by an unscrupulous fellow fresher, who, after establishing that I was a joint degree student, claimed outright that I was unlikely to obtain a first – “Oh yes, joint degree students hardly ever get firsts, because switching between disciplines means you don’t acquire the same depth of knowledge.”
My first reaction was to reward the impudent fool with a hasty kick in the shins. Yet, being a fresher, and rather shy, I simply appeared perplexed at the remark; stunned by the frankness with which this student thought it acceptable to slate my degree.
I think that such claims are ridiculous. The classification of one’s degree is a reflection of the amount of work undertaken, and, if this encompasses several subjects, then we are all the better for it. The overlap between module content often results in an enhanced contextual understanding, offering a wider academic perspective. Joint degrees are more challenging to students because of their breadth; they are most certainly not a ‘cop out’.
Yet I must admit that a year down the line I am finding it increasingly difficult to defend my degree; desperate flaws are constantly being exposed which I cannot ignore. The joint degree programme at York has been a constant source of frustration and anxiety, and I am not alone. Many students have been experiencing timetable clashes between subjects, overlapping seminars and confusing lecture structures.
The main problem seems to be a lack of communication between departments. We are told that the Joint Board of Studies, which oversees the examination of joint degrees, ensures compatibility between the requirements of the joint degree and individual departments. This may be the case for examination, but the main message to joint degree students when carrying out their degree is to just ‘get on with it.’ It is our responsibility to ensure we do not mess up our module credits, that our lessons do not clash, and that we somehow find a way to relate our disciplines.
The University of Leeds appears far more efficient in its organisation of Joint Degree programmes, with an independent Centre for Joint Honours. Now, while I would never normally advocate York aping Leeds, in this instance we must make an exception. A Centre for Joint Honours would provide essential relief for the stresses of joint degree students, and would, perhaps, result in a few more firsts to prove the sceptics entirely mistaken.J