Just keep going

This year has included a death, moving home, a new job which itself is requiring training and my wife getting some awful medical news which will effect the rest of her life.  But I am still going, doing 120 credits of study at level 2.  It requires selfishness to do a degree as a married adult, and it requires an understanding partner who will let you be selfish… for years.

TMA05 of A222 Exploring Philosophy has been a toughie.  Running two weeks late, the content meant little to me, and I could not relate to the material.  In trying to write the essay, I could not grasp how the arguments, counter-arguments and counter-counter-arguments worked.  I could not see how to construct the essay.

In frustration I just defined the terms, gave the context for the essay question, mentioned the philosophers and their theories and then proceeded to rant about the material, the subject and generally vented my spleen.    Three days I spent on that, mostly tearing my hair out, writing what I thought of the material.

It confirmed what I had thought while reading the material – I should have saved myself some time and skipped this TMA.  Just not done it.

Then, having run out of time, I submitted it anyway.  

I got more than 40% !    My rant about the material got marked (and I even got advice on how I should have presented it so that it would have been a valid philosophy essay!)

As a consequence, the average across the first five TMAs went down by 1%.  Had I submitted nothing, a very poor mark for the final TMA, TMA06, would have meant failing the module.  I now cannot fail the TMA part of the module.

Moral: no matter how frustrated, always submit something.

Lancaster University Post-Graduate Open Day

Went to Lancaster University today to attend one of their many post-graduate open days.  It has seemed to me other universities only have the one day per year, or bundle post-graduates in the the undergraduates, but Lancaster University have made more of an effort.

I attended by bus from Lancaster town centre.  Although it is just outside the city centre, it is easy to get to by bus if you live in Lancaster.  There is an underpass road with the bus stops down there.  This means the buses drop you off right in the centre of the university campus, but there is no traffic on the campus.  It is very cleverly done.  You just go down a staircase and voilà! there’s a road and bus stops down there.

It was better run and better organised the the others I have been to.  It started at 1 pm and, being a Thursday, the weekly market stalls were up.  The centre of the university is like a tiny town centre with a WH Smiths, Greggs, cash machines, Costa and a bunch of other shops.  It feels like a new town’s town centre, especially with these farmer’s market type market stalls which are there every week during term times.

Personally escorted round the library taking in the very collections I personally needed.

Big chat with a departmental manager about the options.

Discovered that if only 1 person chooses a module, it gets run, unlike elsewhere.

I can do a custom degree (within reason).

One can attend all the department’s lectures; this means if one changes one’s mind about which 5 modules to do, it is less of a problem.  Just start out by doing all the ones you want and not doing the 5,000 word essays in the ones you want to drop.

St Andrews University open day

I attended the St Andrews University open day to see if it was somewhere I would want to do a master’s degree in peace studies.

The town is pretty, small and full of history.  It is also clearly a town around a university, not a university in a town.  Over a third of the 20,000 population are students.

Learning is self-driven.  There would be four contact (teaching) hours per week with tutors doing more when they can; Peace Studies would typically be five hours per week.  I am capable of self-learning, it is the teaching I would be paying for.  I want more than that.

It does not feel like a suitable environment for a mature student.  There’s nothing to do.

We could not afford to live there.

I am sure it is brilliant for an independent, focused, young adult with self-control and a passion for their subject.

But I’m ruling it out for me for cost and value-for-money reasons.

St Andrews University open day, pre-research

I’m in St Andrews in Scotland today to see what the town is like.  Tomorrow is the St Andrews University post-graduate open day.  The university has an excellent reputation for peace studies so it needed to go on my shopping list, despite it looking too expensive with too few work prospects and, therefore, an unrealistic option.

We’re staying at The Inn at Lathones, a very comfortable and welcoming hotel just outside St Andrews.  They kept the restaurant open for us when we arrived quite late last night and the dinner was excellent.  So was breakfast this morning.  The staff are great and, as every visit to Scotland has confirmed to me, the Scots are friendly and generous people.

The wander round the town was interesting.  It is obviously a university & tourism & golf town.

I stumbled across Student Accommodation Services by accident, popped in and they could not have been more helpful.  Lots of information and advice and a map of the town.

I had an excellent pint and a couple of free tasters in The Central in Market Street, a Victorian boozer with an excellent atmosphere and surroundings.

We picked up some bits for Christmas and gizzits for people in the friendly shops.  I got speculative costs from the letting agents for various forms of private accommodation of various sizes (although Premier Lettings was a bit snooty and unhelpful, warning me it was a bit expensive and not even wanting to give me a business card when I asked).

A bit disappointed the public loo was 30p and I had no change.  Also, I tried to buy a free bookmark in the Salvation Army shop for 20p so I could get some change, but they said it had no code on the till so could not take my money.  So, back to the pub to use theirs, and make a booking for dinner.

Then I saw the university’s Student Careers office.  I had to pop in.

When I first expressed an interest in working in the peace sector, one of the very first things I found was a page on the St Andrews University Careers Service web site about the peace sector.  That page was the start of my research.  I could not resist the opportunity to pop in and have a happy exchange with these good people.

At the desk was a young chap.  I asked if I was in the right place for student careers advice.  He sat back in his chair as if avoiding a leper, pulled a face as if encountering a blocked toilet and said:

Yes.  This is for students only.  The Job Centre is over that way“, flicking his hand in the general direction of ‘away’ like a dowager duchess dismissing a beggar.

I was at a loss for words.  I had been dismissed and was expected to depart from his presence at once.

The arrogant, stuck-up, public-school, elitist prick had, in a few words, managed to undo an awful lot of good impression created by the town.  I felt embarrassed and not posh enough to be in this town of big expensive cars and daughters of rich daddies.  Suddenly the attitude in Premier Lettings explained itself, the 30p for a wee, the types of shops (no mobile ‘phone or 99p shops here!, just a M&S Food Hall the size of most supermarkets elsewhere), the inflated prices of everything.  However, the caff with the sign “Kate met Wills in here” still seemed tawdry.

Is this a good university?  Or merely an expensive one?  They are not the same thing.  Right now, it feels all fur coat and no knickers.   Tomorrow, we shall see what the academic side is like.

Update:  we went back into town for dinner.  At the table next to us were three men.  One was saying to one of the others (amongst other, similar comments):

  • “We turned down 50 students who wanted to learn this shit.”
  • “I’ve brought you all the way up here to convince you you already have this job.”
  • “I already know who is getting the post doc places.  Now it is a matter of convincing them to apply.”
  • “I need to see your CV so I can tell you what the Master wants to see in it.”
  • “Make sure you tell them you have another job offer.  It tells them you are in demand.”

Master’s degree in Peace Studies – what to think about

A useful resource for what to think about when considering doing a master’s degree is the postgrad digital magazine from prospects.ac.uk, here.

It includes tips on:

  • questions to ask at a postgraduate fair (what the universities call their visiting days or open days, I presume) such as “How did last year’s students obtain funding?”
  • that one should apply at least eight months before the course starts
  • how to write a personal statement (whatever one of those is)
  • studying abroad.

As I am shopping around at the moment for where to do such a master’s degree I have lots of questions.

  • Do I want a master’s degree or a research master’s degree?
  • What modules make up the degree?
    • and are they relevant for my career aspirations?
    • and will I learn stuff I want to learn?
    • and will I learn stuff I need to learn?
  • Will an Honours Degree in Philosophy and Psychology qualify me for the course?
  • What are the fees?
  • What funding options are there?
  • Is it “master’s degree” or “masters degree”?
  • How long is it?
    • If it is for two years, does one attend in the second year?
  • Will I be doing a PhD after the master’s degree?
    • Will this master’s degree help m get onto a PhD course?
    • Should I do an MPhil instead?
    • Or maybe an MRes?
  • Will it still be running when I want to do it?
  • How realistic for me is the geographic location?
  • Will it be prestigious?
  • Is the title of the master’s degree a suitable one?
  • How many ECTS credits is it worth?
    • How many ECTS credits do I need / want?

Regarding the ECTS business, ECTS is the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System.  A degree earns credits which are transferable across Europe.  Typically, each year is worth 60 ECTS credits where each credit is about 25 to 30 hours of work.  Most European master’s programmes (‘programmes’ seems to be what they call them) are worth 90-120 ECTS credits.  However, UK master’s degrees only last one year and are—supposedly—worth 180 UK credits where two UK credits are equivalent to one ECTS credit.  However, I can see some UK master’s degrees are worth only 60 ECTS credits rather than 90.  The Open University says two of its credits are equivalent to one ECTS credit, so an OU master’s degree (180 OU credits) is 90 ECTS credits.

University of St Andrews – Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies

I keep seeing University of St Andrews Peace Studies MA being referenced so St Andrews is on my list of potential places to go to do an MA in Peace Studies. It is actually an MPhil or MLitt in Peace and Conflict Studies.  They have a postgraduate open day on 11th November 2015 which is an appropriate day (Remembrance Day) to find out about their peace studies.  That looks like a jolly good idea, especially since we like Edinburgh.

So, how to get there.  Oh.  I thought St Andrews Uni wa in Edinburgh.  It’s not.  By quite a lot.  It’s in a place called… St Andrews.  Which does not have a train station.  That’s not convenient.  And it’s a 90 minute to 2 hour commute from Edinburgh, or an hour from Dundee.

For me to study, requires us to have an income.  We’d have to move to where there are jobs.  I don’t think St Andrews is practical because of the lack of public transport to get there.

Such a shame.

Bradford University Peace Studies MA

Bradford University has a reputation for being the university for peace studies in the UK.  They also claim to be the first and largest university Peace Studies Department in the world.  Hence I visited their Bradford University’s open day on Saturday 4th July 2015 to investigate them as a possibility for doing my master’s degree in a peace-related subject.

The Peace Studies department was formed 40 years ago.

There is no cap on the number of entries; they currently get around 100 MA students per year.  One does not have to choose a specific MA in advance—admission is to the department.  I was told “the Peace Studies MA is for people who do not know what to do with themselves”.  I know exactly what I want to do and a Peace Studies MA is core to that.

Part of their claim to fame is that Margaret Thatcher tried to get the peace studies department closed down because of their links with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) organisation.  (I checked this out and, according to The Struggle Against the Bomb Volume 3):

As early as 1981, the British Secretary of State had publicly attacked peace studies as “appeasement” education and, thereafter, public officials issued dire warnings about peace and antinuclear bias in the nation’s schools . Thatcher herself, convinced of pro-CND bias at the nation’s only university level peace studies department, located at the University of Bradford, sought to have it shut down, and repeatedly asked officials: “Has that department been dealt with yet?”

I was also told about an organisation one of their staff is involved in (the Oxford Research Group) but that organisation is independent so it is a bit glory-by-association.  Ditto for SaferWorld and OpenDemocracy.  We were also told one of their professors is always jetting round the world and contacting him results in “I’m in such-and-such airport” responses.  Not much use as a campus lecturer, then.  They also said they are influential in government, but not how.  Lots of words, little evidence.

I was taken around the library by their Head of Library Services.  It is a fantastic university library; I was very impressed.

For some of my questions the PostGraduate stand sent me to the Peace Studies stand who sent me to the PostGraduate stand.

It seems very pro-gender-divisive which came across in the old, tired, “you’re male so you’re wrong and need educating” mantra.

Intake is in September.  Class sizes are 30-40 and no less than 15.I asked why they are relatively inexpensive (£5,400) and told “Just be glad  it is so cheap“.  Contact hours about 10 per week with attendance being on up to 3 days per week.

I managed to have a chat with one Peace Studies undergraduate student.  She is enjoying the course but not intending to use it in her career.

Conclusion.  It felt too big; I felt I would be more raw material for their sausage machine.  I was not inspired by the modules they do: too region-specific and contemporary and not theoretical or practical enough ni my areas of interest.  They seem to be geared up for training people to do grounds-roots work in the field overseas as opposed to changing the policies of governments to prevent war, which is my area of interest.

Liverpool Hope University – MA Peace Studies

On 26th June 2015 I attended the Liverpool Hope University open day as part of my investigation into where to do my Peace Studies master’s degree.

It is a small university which started as a teacher training college; apparently it has an excellent reputation for all its teaching as a consequence of this.  I was concerned this means a small number of teaching staff for the MA or a limited range of knowledge.  Also, whether it means less resources, e.g. books and journals, relating to peace studies.  Since it is part of the SCONUL Access scheme and interlibrary loans are only £2, any limitations to the collection should not be an issue.

It has a Christian background / origin which I think explains their peace studies department.

It is just outside the centre of Liverpool and so has an atmosphere of being populated by students focused in study and learning rather than the city’s night-life and uni social opportunities.

It is the cheapest peace-related MA I have found in the UK at £4,500.  When I asked about why this was I was told there is no desire for growth and so none of the funds are needed for building new buildings or buying land as other universities are doing.  Also, it is university policy to keep MA costs down as students have already paid to do a first degree.

We were spoiled by the staff and students who took us round and showed us the facilities.  The free bus to Liverpool Lime Street was a nice touch.

I spent some time talking to Dr Stefanie Kappler, Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Director of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies.  (She did her PhD at St Andrews in Edinburgh which is also on my list of universities to investigate.)

The MAs have 4 contact hours per week on various days.  Class sizes vary between 25 and 8 students.

As for peace-related events outside the curriculum, they have said I can subscribe to their Archbishop Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies‘ mailing list.

The campus is quiet and peaceful.  It has an air of contemplation.  Their library is very professional, would be a pleasure to use and has a good size collection on peace.  [Note to self: the class mark in their library for peace-related material is 327.17]

The modules for the MA Peace Studies is relevant to what I want to learn.

The atmosphere felt right; I left the open day feeling that was where I want to do my master’s degree.

Coventry University – Peace and Conflict Studies MA

Since I know I need to get a master’s degree in peace studies to work in the sector—an MA is the entry level qualification—I have booked onto various university open days to shop around for where to do one.  My undergraduate degree will be with the Open University but they have nothing like a Peace Studies MA so they cannot help me.

I know about Coventry’s link to peace firstly because of knowing the history of the city in World War 2 and how it was bombed and the stories surrounding that, code breaking and whether Winston Churchill knew it was coming or not.  Secondly, through being in Coventry House (properly, The House of the Resurgent City and Cathedral Church of St Michael and all Angels at Coventry) at school, we knew the history of the city’s reaction to the bombing, how it became a city of peace and reconciliation, twinned with the likes of Stalingrad, Dresden, Warsaw and Arnhem and other war-ravaged cities.

Hence I expected Coventry University’s peace studies department to be large, very active, extensive, impressive and prestigious.

The open day for postgraduates (13th June 2015) began with a presentation where they went on about being a “modern university” which I realised is code for “we were a polytechnic”.  They were spinning that into a good thing, but it did not work.  Much of this talk was waffle, bullshit and FUD.  The campus is a building site and they were at lengths to say this was a good thing and it would continue for some years.  Not a good thing for students during those years, however.

They boasted they were aware of the need for, but do not have, a post-graduate centre.  Not a clever thing to say on post-graduate open day.

They did say they do have a—note the singular ‘a’—research expert.  Just the one.

Attendance at a second lecture entitled “funding” later in the day was a waste of an hour.  It was exactly the same welcome presentation I saw in the morning.  Putting on the same presentation twice under two different names does not count as two different presentations.  That was really annoying since it was necessary to hang around to wait for the second one.  And it was of no use, just saying “See the gov.uk web site”.

There was a table for the Peace Studies department.  They packed up at lunchtime so when I went back with more questions for them… they had gone.  Since my discussion with them in the morning about their two (just the two) peace-related MAs told me little more than one of them was being dropped, I can only conclude Coventry University has ceased to be interested in peace studies.

The two MAs they do are focussed on people working in the field on the ground, and for one of them you have to have significant work experience.  So, neither are suitable for what I want.

It would have been nice to see the library.  It was closed.  On an Open Day.  On a Saturday.  In exam season (mid-June).

I was left with the feeling that Coventry University is focussed on growth, remodelling streets, putting up buildings and not at all interested in students.

Such a shame.  I had such high hopes.