I have an image in my head of a notice board in each department containing a list of students with a strike across their names, warning tutors to avoid any and all communication. If such a thing exists, it is almost certain that I am on the board residing in the English department; every correspondence I have with them ends in bitterness and resentment from us both.
The first clash came upon the realisation that I was not cut out for the dual Honours course I had set out to do (English/Philosophy). I contacted the English department asking to become a single Honours English student, explaining that, not only did I not enjoy Philosophy, but was also having difficulty achieving decent grades. The latter was particularly worrying as, thanks to the arrangement of modules in English/Philosophy, the next time I was due to do Philosophy the marks would count towards my overall degree despite the fact that I would not have studied Philosophy for a year.
Due to the over subscription of English students this year, I was told a transfer was impossible. Coming from a school where a B at A-level was a grave disappointment, it came as a bit of a culture shock to be told by a tutor that they wouldn’t expect more than a low 2.2 from students, even if it is ‘just’ the first year.
I was left with the following piece of advice: “If you allow yourself to turn this into a negative situation, you’ll only help create the kind of difficulties and disappointment I’m sure you can overcome with a more positive approach.” I will leave the reader to consider how they would have responded to this.
Having been fed this line just hours after a friend was allowed a hassle-free transfer from Finance/Economics to single Honours Economics, it occurred to me only that I was being offered fewer options solely because of my chosen subject and that the English department have left themselves grossly oversubscribed (quoted by one tutor as having a body of “over 700 students”).
The second jolt in the ‘series of unfortunate events’ came with module choices for year two. Having admittedly left them to the last minute, upon collecting a form from the department I was encouraged to fill it out there and then, giving me little time to fully consider my options.
Having realised afterwards that ‘Late Renaissance’ meant two months of sonnets, it became apparent that I had made the wrong choice. Thus, expecting to be chastised for such a late change of mind, but comforted by the understanding that last term students had changed modules as late as week one of the term in which the module was taking place, I emailed the department about changing modules.
Call me an optimist for expecting some room for error within my degree.
“Module changes have to be made before Week Seven of last term,” I was told, the reason being that “it would become unmanageable with so many students.” Nor are there any waiting lists for modules which are full (offered in a number of other subjects), in case of spaces opening up – you are simply expected to find another suitable module, which might be easier if there were not just three modules to choose from each term (in comparison to seven or eight per term in Philosophy).
The resentment I feel at not being able to do the modules or subject I want to do wavers only when I think about students taking subjects such as History of Art, where students are actually forced to queue up in order to gain entry onto their desired modules; described as akin to fighting for festival tickets.
This experience is an apt illustration of how students’ needs are not at the forefront of department policies. If the problem comes from having too many students in a department, then lessen the student-load. Better students suffer the initial disappointment of not getting into university than the distress caused by spending three years doing a sub-par degree.
In contrast, the Economics department allows both transfers from dual Honours courses to single Honours Economics and last-minute changes in module choices. Their policy is to allow module changes to be made up to “Week Three of the term the module is taught.” Thus, had I a passion for numbers instead of words I would have a greater involvement in the arrangement of my own degree – a blow exacerbated further by the fact that I could probably also have gained entry into a better university had I not chosen to do English, one of the most competitive subjects when it comes to gaining a place at university.
Knowing as they do the competition for the places which their students have gained, one might hope that the English department would be willing to accommodate those students’ concerns. Instead the department rely on this competition, knowing that for every dissatisfied student that drops out there are ten more standing by to take their place.
As stated by Alexander Pope, “To err is human…” Just don’t expect the English department to forgive.