Getting nowhere by degrees

Three weeks ago, I found a degree course I fancied at the University of east London but at the Docklands site. I emailed the tutor in charge and asked about applying as a mature student. I was checking out enrolling onto a university degree in September 2012, late in the day  and was joining in and competing with the younsters trying for places through UCAS clearing and adjustment. They had had guidance from teachers and college advisors. I was alone.

I went along to the Birkbeck open evening in Stratford Old Town Hall E15 last week Thursday. Birkbeck is actually terribly Bloomsbury but has affiliations with UEL ( University of East London) Stratford,  and Rosetta Arts which is in West Ham but under a Stratford address. In the daytime I’d checked out the ambience of UEL’s Stratford campus but hardly felt I’d fit in there and none of that site’s degree subjects appealed to me. Well, you have to feel good if you’re doing a three year stint.

At the Birkbeck evening the trickle of visitors all received  goody bags and reminders about how Birkbeck is the only evening degree university in London. Whoop. I met the arts lot and the finance staff. The student support staff had not appeared so I couldn’t ask searching questions about the application forms. Neither did the staff advising potential students with disabilities turn up. Not impressed.

I was told I could still apply via UCAS clearing to find a place and then fill in the finance forms online. All would be good. What I didn’t know and wasn’t told was that Clearing finished the next day. Live and learn.

The next day I decided to go up to Bloomsbury and see the Birkbeck sites and get a feel about the places. All I got into were converted houses. No-one checked security. I went into the University College, London and saw what I saw: Milling international students having their inductions. I went back to the Malet Street site of Birkbeck, checked out the café on the top floor, gawped at more international new students, played on the lifts and came away none the wiser but excited that I’d seen RADA from the top windows.

Indoors and desperate, I trawled the internet for a degree course to suit me. There it was , a 2 year foundation degree in art in Camden managed by Middlesex University. I will say at this point that The Telegraph or Observer league tables give me no confidence in any of the universities I chose and I chose them because they professed on their web sites to have vacant places for 2012. I double-checked this gem of a degree in a college I’d never heard of, found out the name of the senior lecturer and went along to enrol. There were many grandmothers in hijabs signing up for ESOL courses and a couple of younger people going for maths and literacy. I waited my turn until the harassed CSA called me forward. My planet stalled.”The course isn’t going ahead”. “But it’s up on the website and there, it’s on the board in front of reception.” “It’s only recently come off. There’s a similar course ” and she went on to promote a Saturday five week course clearly not a degree course. I was fuming. The website was blatently lying to me. CSA knew nothing else. I explored the café area and had a sniff around to see why the whole building had warranted inclusion in the Open House Weekend. Even the advertisement about the 1905 building having its doors open to the public for free for Open House Weekend was incorrect with stupid dates on the institute’s website.

After a Big Mac in Dalston I emailed the senior tutor and asked to be seen. The next day I met her (she was late) and  there was no apology about the rubbish website listings but a   predictable offer of a lower diploma place offered with indifference. Not me, mate.

Evening was coming down  and I decided to go to the Docklands and view the University of East London. It was an evening out and very far away by any journey from north London and expensive too. Actually the journey was enjoyable. From the Woolwich bound DLR cab I saw  West Ham Station, Rosetta Arts, Star Lane and closed UDAC. From Canning Town DLR station, I saw the cable cars and low-flying aeroplanes. The University is there right there on Cyprus Station. What a magnificent sight! Too far away. There’s a stink of flight fuel,and the roar of City Airport planes. But there’s water and sunsets.

To date I never had an answer from the lecturer to whom I’d sent an email but the CSA there is good old-fashioned helpful and assured me there were places. Too far away. Imagine getting up in the winter for the 9 am lecture and travelling 2 hours. I am mature, remember.

Not to let any ships pass in the night I emailed the lecturer in charge of a degree course at SOAS. Why not? At least she replied and sent on my personal statement to her honourable colleague.

Finally I got around to applying for finance. If I don’t eat or keep warm for three years I’ll be okay.

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