Thoughts on politics, law, and the web.

Don’t Study at Strathclyde University: My Crap Student Experience

Strath-logo For the past two years I have been a part-time, distance learning student on the Internet Law LLM course at the University of Strathclyde. Despite enjoying the content of the course itself, and the expertise of the lecturers in my department, the overall student experience as a whole has been almost overwhelmingly negative.

Let me be clear: individual staff members have been quick to respond to any issues, and as helpful as one would expect from an institution of higher education. However, the policies of the University suck – demonstrating a complete lack of concern for the welfare of their students. For that reason, I not only take no pride in being associated with Strathclyde, but also would not consider undertaking further courses there in the future – at least not as a paying consumer.

Here are two examples of why:

1. Increased fees without warning.

When I signed up for my course, it was a part-time, distance course. That meant that it would span over 2 years. By its nature, it could not be completed quicker.  When I went to register for my second year of tuition, I was greeted with the news that my fees were no longer £3,300 as before, but £3,700 – four times the rate of inflation at the time. This would have been fair enough had I just signed up to a new course, and thus agreeing to the increased fees, but I was a continuing student. My course was pretty much worthless unless I continued on with the second year, and so I was at the whim of whatever increases the University decided to impose – even when they were as substantial as this.

I was about to embark upon a lengthy immigration process to bring Grace over to the UK, and so every penny counted. I had budgeted extremely carefully to ensure that I had enough to pay the fees in the period provided, and to suddenly be told – at the point of registration – that the cost was now £400 higher was a shock. Even more galling was the fact that the University made Masters students sign a declaration stating that they understood the importance of budgeting properly, as we were responsible for the financial commitment.

Yeah, good one guys.

Only after I kicked up a huge stink online (as well as querying why distance students were paying around £850 more per year than attending students), did I get anybody to give me the time of day. Despite being very friendly, it was clear that there was little they could do, except lay out the party line:

The University accepts that the process by which continuing students are advised could be improved and a review of how this could be done is already underway.

As I put it in my correspondence to them at the time:

I am pleased to hear that there is a review underway to address the concerns I have raised for future students. However, this means little to my situation. It seems that the answer is essentially: “Too bad.

I work hard to structure my life in order to responsibly finance my life and the degree, and feel like this effort has been ridden roughshod over by the commercial interests of the University – who don’t even seem that bothered.

After a lot of correspondence, there was only one route left open: to go through a formal complaint process. The prospect of having to do this whilst switching job, taking on the UK immigration process, and studying for a Masters seemed like too much to take, so I swallowed it.

2. No student card for you!

Originally I was issued a student card for a period of 12 months. After that 12 months, I wrote to have it renewed, and received a new card for my second year of study – expiring in October 2014. The result of a late re-sit of one of my modules meant that the submission of my dissertation is now due in March 2015.

Noticing that my student card was set to expire, I e-mailed to get my card renewed for the next academic period. I was informed that I would not receive a new card, as these are only issued for the ‘minimum period of study i.e. 24 months.’

Ignoring the fact that I was issued two separate cards for 12 months each, I can’t quite believe that this is the policy of the University. When I queried how I was meant to get into the library (you know, to write my dissertation) I was told that I would need to get a letter from my department to confirm I still needed access.

This is complete madness. I am a student at the University. I am writing a dissertation, yet I am not allowed a student card to cover that period? Yet another example of a blanket policy imposed that completely neglects to take into account the standard of student experience. Why should I need to get a letter from a department to confirm that I am a student, when I am still enrolled? Something that is such a small detail to the University, but which has a big impact on my student experience. Oh, and don’t forget that I have paid them £7000 for this pleasure.

I’ve e-mailed to ask for further details of why such a policy is in place, but have yet to hear back at time of writing. I will update this if and when I get a response.

These are just two examples of occasions where I have run into a wall when dealing with the University.

I enjoy my course. The content is interesting, and the lecturers have been helpful and responsive – but the overall attitude of the University to student experience sucks. There seems to be absolutely no concern at an upper level for student concerns, and it’s left me feeling more of a burden than a part of the community – sadly overshadowing the positives of the course itself.

Next time I choose to spend thousands of pounds on education, I won’t be doing so with Strathclyde University.

Update: One day after writing this blog I have heard back from the University about point 2 above. The person who I was in correspondence with dealt with my frustration admirably, and has raised the issue with her manager. As a result, they are sending out a new student card that is valid until the end of my time as a student at Strathclyde. I’m pleased about this income, but disappointed that I had to kick up such a fuss over something that would have been so easily fixed.

Why I Have Joined the SNP

SNP Logo

I have never even considered joining a political party before this past week, but today I became a member of the SNP.

Party political membership is always something that seemed unnecessary, and opposite to my principles. Why restrict your activism and ideology blindly to the views of the narrow? It seemed like it closed down the possibility for change and revolution rather than enabled it. Rightly or wrongly, party membership is something that is often looked down upon by those who consider themselves free thinkers – including myself.

The past two years has seen an incredible process take place, with more political engagement than ever before – something that was kicked off by the determination of the SNP. Whether you love or loathe Alex Salmond, under his leadership the SNP in Scotland has fought for a commitment to free education, a protection from arbitrary taxes introduced by Westminster (the bedroom tax), and overall a greater voice for Scottish people.

The result of the referendum has made me question in what ways my passion for social justice has been tempered over the past few years, and what I can do to do more in future. I’ve watched as other crestfallen Scots have signed up for membership of the SNP, and I have thought long and hard about whether I should do the same – analysing my own prejudices and fears.

These are the two listed aims in the constitution of the Scottish National Party:

(a) Independence for Scotland; that is the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament, so that its authority is limited only by the sovereign power of the Scottish People to bind it with a written constitution and by such agreements as it may freely enter into with other nations or states or international organisations for the purpose of furthering international cooperation, world peace and the protection of the environment.

(b) the furtherance of all Scottish interests.

In their code of conduct for members, there is a number of other statements, such as:

‘No member may make racist statements in any context’

and

‘Every member has a responsibility not to discriminate in his or her conduct on the ground of race, colour, gender, religious belief or non-belief or sexual orientation’.

It’s time to nail my colours to the mast. These are aims and values I am happy to sign up to.

If we are forced to participate in the party political process, I want to be aligned with one that will fight for real change. By joining the growing swell of people making their commitment to these aims this week (and creating the third biggest political party in the UK so far), I’m determined not to let the dream for a better country fall by the wayside. Membership will also allow me to more effectively challenge the policies of the SNP with which I disagree (like minimum alcohol pricing).

Next year in May we vote in a UK wide general election. It’s time to give Labour a hammering, and send a message that the way things are just now is unacceptable. This isn’t the end of the story.

Join us here.

Scotland: Fighting for a fairer nation doesn’t stop here.

Loss

It’s difficult to find the words to explain how I felt on Friday the 19th of September.

Partially as the result of getting caught up in the passion of the movement, I hadn’t quite prepared myself for how deeply emotional a No vote would be, or quite how hard it would knock me sideways. Somewhere deep down, my heart and soul simply refused to accept that the Scots would vote against their own independence when given the chance. It was unlike anything I have ever felt before, and left me feeling completely adrift; seriously questioning whether the things I had always believed about my country were true. The only way I can think to describe it is like discovering that a friend you have always looked up to has betrayed you right at the point you placed the most faith in them, and that any sneaking suspicions you had about the flaws in their character were proven to be true.

It’s difficult to articulate this in a way that won’t sound either contrived or naive to those looking in on this from the outside. It’s easy to see this as the sore response of someone on the losing side, but that would be a gross simplification.

I cried alone, but also alongside my fellow Scots, not just for the nation that we could have had, but because it felt like the nation which we believed in might never have existed at all. For the first time, it was our own people that had stood against us, and that was the hardest thing to accept of all.

What was the point now? With our rejection of independence, what were we meant to do to hold those in power to account? Did we even deserve anything, given that we rejected our chance to have real say or control? Was this really the country and people that I had grown up to believe were stoic and courageous? Seeing British nationalist neo-nazis with Union Flags causing chaos in Glasgow wasn’t shocking or new by any means, but felt like the final nail in the coffin. The image of those thugs ripping the Saltire from the hands of a broken lassie on the ground will stay with me forever. We were once again just voiceless subjects, and we had done it to ourselves.

I went to bed battered and dejected, and I know I’m not the only one who shed more than a few tears – not because my political views had been rejected, but because the image I had of my country had been shattered. Picking up my crumpled kilt, I hung my Saltire over the chest of drawers at the end of the room. I was unsure about what these symbols even meant anymore. I didn’t know if the Scotland I believed in was simply fantasy, or if I wanted to be associated with what had happened. This simple act felt like I was giving one last chance for them to develop meaning again.

Recovery

Waking up on the 20th, things felt different. The unexpected, crushing feelings of loss from yesterday were still there, but the sharp pain had been removed.

I thought back to what I had read and felt over the previous days, and how some of my friends had responded with such admirable resilience in the face of adversity. Despite longing to resonate with the virtues expressed in the likes of ‘Wipe your eyes. On your feet‘, I just didn’t. It was too early, and seemed far too militant. I had expected more, and needed time to grieve. For the first time I had felt loss I couldn’t rationalise away, and this wasn’t going to be as easy to just pick myself up from defiantly.

Beautiful and inspiring things were said by many people, and in the clear light of day they began to take on new clarity. Through the fog, I could feel the fire begin to return to my heart. See here for just one example.

The vision of the independence campaign had made me forget that Scotland is often a damaged, and impoverished place, marred by sectarianism and shameful violence. I was far from an activist, but felt like we had almost achieved what we hoped and dreamed about. Seeing so many people passionate about social justice was a victory in itself. To those who decried the entire debate itself, I contest that it has been one of the most engaging events in Scottish political history. The turnout speaks for itself.

For me, this referendum was about the chance to make real and fundamental changes to the country we lived in: to scrap nuclear weapons, to make a commitment to free education, and to ensure political accountability for and to the Scottish people. Whilst I, and 45% of the country believed the best way to achieve this was through independence, the values expressed are those articulated and shared by those from both sides.

The Scotland all of us envisaged might not exist yet, but that’s even more the reason for all of us to fight for it.

Independence

Let’s be clear: the Scottish people had the chance to vote for independence, and they said no.

I may be heartbroken about this, but that is what has happened. Those questioning the validity of the process, or pushing for some elusive recount are doing no good for any of us. Either way, the people have spoken; Salmond has resigned; and the decision has been made.

That said, this does not mean that we have to accept that the current situation is the best option for Scotland, and I don’t.

The question about Scottish independence may well be resolved for a generation, but the fight for Scotland’s future has just begun.

In recent years there has often been talk about younger Scots being opposed to Thatcher merely because of historical precedent, rather than through actual understanding or experience. Well now we have experienced first hand the full mechanisms of the British establishment in action. Whatever side of the vote we came down on, the debate was filled with empty promises and misinformation from those we have come to trust. Never has the duplicitous agenda of those in power been so obvious, and this is coming from somebody who always believed such espousals to be mere biased paranoia. The media and political parties rallied together for their own benefit, rather than a desire to seek what was best for Scotland.

Whilst I believe I will see Scottish independence in my lifetime, that is not the question for today, or even tomorrow. Now, more than ever, we have to stand together to fight for our common values – irrespective of our differing views on self determination.

What has been, and what lies ahead

For weeks, the atmosphere in Scotland was electric; the country felt alive.

The majority of people in Glasgow, the UK’s third biggest city… my city… voted to leave the UK.

Reservations have been expressed about the seeming redundancy of our national anthem Flower of Scotland, particularly over the line ‘we can still rise now, and be a nation again’.

Know what? I’ve never felt more like a nation than in the past few weeks. The real disgrace isn’t voting no; it’s to let go of the dynamic and push for real transformative justice – across party political divides.

From the article in Bella Caledonia mentioned earlier, these words hit home for me:

‘Armed with little more than social media, blogs, and DIY creativity, we tried to take on the might of the British state and the vast power and wealth of the British establishment. And for a few weeks we had them terrified. Hold on to that feeling and be proud of it.’

Finding those common bonds that united us over the previous weeks is vital. For me, the momentum still exists for change… possibly even stronger now that it is not tied to a single ideological question.

Whilst these are my own views, those that have conspired to influence the Scottish people for their own agenda should count their days numbered. We are slow to forget, and just as we have reduced the Tories to insignificance in Scotland, so too will we reject the complicity and hollow vows of the BBC, Labour party, and Liberal Democrats. You’ve shown your hand, and now we are going to come after you.

I love Glasgow, and I love Scotland. Today I am proud to be Scottish, but perhaps for different reasons than I was before. I am proud of us dreaming and debating what a better future might look like – whether that is together or independent. Now that the majority has spoken, it’s time to ensure that the shared values that rose to the surface are pursued.

Let’s keep asking the difficult questions and challenging the status quo.

Fighting for a fairer nation doesn’t stop here.

Scotland’s loss of hope.

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photo by my friend Neil Slorance. www.neilslorance.com

 

I truly believed that Scotland would vote for independence.

For the past few weeks, we had dared to dream about what sort of country Scotland should be. It felt like we had found the beginnings of a new identity based on our shared values. The atmosphere was electric; the hope intoxicating.

Today, I feel lost.

We had the chance to do something brave, and amazing. We had the chance to rid our country of nuclear weapons; to declare our commitment to human rights; to challenge the political establishment, and to finally have a real say in our future. Instead, Scotland voted to remain part of the UK.

Watching the results come in, I found tears streaming down my face.

That hope. Those dreams. The ones that my fellow Scots had articulated so passionately, along with the common bond that we had felt… all of it was crushed.

I fear that the Scotland that I have always believed in, might really be nothing more than a fantasy. Rather than the fiercely proud, open minded, and liberal nation, we have shown that we are actually the far more conservative version that rarely gets talked about. The one that we desperately don’t want to believe in. The one that chooses the safe option. The one that breeds Sectarianism.

Tonight I sit and watch the scenes that are unfolding in Glasgow. The sea of blue flags replaced by Union Jacks emblazoned with ‘No Surrender’. The nazi salutes. The gangs of thugs violently attacking people who have Saltires and Scotland tops.

Rightly or wrongly, I feel like I’ve lost my country.

I wish I could take comfort in the good that was expressed during this whole debate; vowing to double efforts to fight for a better future, against inequality… but I can’t. I feel defeated.

The spirit of the people around me made me feel intensely proud to be Scottish. Now, I’m not sure what that even means.