In September 1991, at just 18, I left home to study for my BA in European Studies, French and Politics and finished my university studies in June 1996, having completed a PGCE. I was happy to leave my student years, I had genuinely enjoyed my studies and was looking forward to a career (and a salary) and new adventures. At the time, I had no plans to return to study, maybe an adult ed course in a creative or practical subject, but nothing academic.
Fast forward a couple of decades(!) and I began to seriously consider further study. I’ve found my niche in special education having worked in a ASC specialist school for the past 15 years. I’m now a member of the SLT and often in meetings which require an in-depth knowledge of the legal framework of SEN. I also lead on key areas in the school too and whilst I read around my subject I felt I needed something a little more. As a SEN parent I was keen to have more knowledge for my own personal battles too! So as from September I have been studying for the National Award for Sencos, a masters level course. I’m very lucky that my school is paying for the course so my focus is solely on the academic demands.
Even this early into the course I can see the difference between my experiences of being a student in the different centuries (omg I feel ancient after that sentence)
We all need our peers to bounce off ideas, discuss set texts etc.. As an 18 year old this was in the ‘cafe’ area of my Uni after lectures and seminars, we would drink 10p cups of coffee from a vending machine in horrible plastic brown cups around bench tables. Now we have exceptional catering on our taught days, freshly brewed coffees and teas, posh biscuits and a 2 course lunch, but it’s still a great opportunity to discuss our lectures. As we’re all based around a large geographical area we keep in contact digitally away from our taught days. We’re all connected through a What’s App group and are using it to check in and work together..
1991 me would have been blown away by the 2019 technology. We didn’t have mobile phones, the internet or our own PCs in ’91 although these would gradually appear in my 5 years of study. In 1991 I was reading books and paper or micro fiche journals and hand writing my assignments. One of my biggest worries about my new course was how the internet would impact on my studies, how do you reference a web page etc.. However these fears have been allayed and it all seems a little simpler than I remember. In fact the whole process seems more relaxed, sensible referencing guidelines and the beauty of word processing and an iCloud where I can access my work at any time on any device! I also don’t need to ever visit the university library. As we’re a distance course all our set texts are digital downloads and we can access all journals online too. I find it difficult to comprehend and a little sad that I will do a masters course without ever entering a library. Whilst I’m too much of a stationery fan to give up my notebook and pen, the digital learning platform accessed through my iPad complements the lectures and all the presentations and resources are there for me to read as the talk is done.
I was so lucky to have done my degree with no fees and the final days of a maintenance grant and feel equally grateful that this course is being financed by work. This is the biggest change in my student experiences, as most students are paying fees, there appears to be more of a corporate feel to studies and the expectation that you are paying for a high quality experience. This is also the saddest change as I believe that this new financial burden will stop some of our brightest students from poorer backgrounds attending university.
Despite the changes the structure is just the same, lectures, reading, research and lots of writing assignments. Life may change around us but academia continues as it always has and it does remain a privilege to be able to study and learn about my specialism.