Hi Lovelies, I hope you’re all well!
It will come as no surprise to hear that in between blogging (occasionally) and working part-time, I also study part-time with the Open University. After talking to friends and family about my experience thus far, I thought it might be a good idea to share everything in a blog post with you guys too.
I graduated from the University of Chester in November 2015 with a 2:1 in English Language and Literature BAHons, already in a job though a little disheartened by the fact that I’d had to take a year out of studying.
Well actually, that isn’t strictly true. A few months before I submitted my final assignment as an undergrad the University announced they would be offering £10,000 bursaries for students wanting to study a full-time MA course in 2016. It seemed like the golden ticket I’d been looking for because up until that point, there was no substantial funding available from Universities or the Government, that was set to come at the end of 2016 and in to 2017 which meant I would have to take a year out and then go back in to education.
Why didn’t I apply for the bursary?
It was simply a case of timing. The bursary was announced right at the end of the academic year, I’d already given up my room to another student, there were only a few places available for the money and even if I WAS successful, the payment times made it very difficult to pay rent/live/pay fees in the mean time.
I ended up graduating and taking a year out as I had initially planned it. It even got to the point where I didn’t think I’d go back the following year either but I have a few co-workers to thank for me taking the plunge.
I’d had a couple of conversations with a friend I used to work with, who’s boyfriend had studied with the Open University. Up until then I’d never considered it to be an option, even though I’d already ruled out Chester (the course seemed dull to me), I was planning on doing what I did at undergrad, visiting campuses, talking to lecturers and getting a feel for my potential new home. I figured I’d feel more comfortable working on a campus rather than being based in my own home.
I shoved it out of my mind until another colleague of mine announced she had signed up for a course at college. I was enormously proud of her, she’d taken a step to advance her career, to make her feel happier about her prospects and to challenge herself in different surroundings; at the same time I took a step back and thought ‘what the f*ck am I waiting for then?’.
Not long after that (after a day at Silverstone watching the F1 Qualifying), I began seriously doing my research about the courses available at the Open University, how to get the funding and where the OU differs from a ‘normal’ University.
I found a course I felt would be right for me and less than a week later I signed myself up to begin studying an MA in English. It was quite a sudden change of events, I had already half-resolved I would take a second year out of studying; looking back I’m not sure why I ever considered it, laziness perhaps. I think at the time I had convinced myself I wanted to take time and find the PERFECT course, at the perfect uni for the right amount of money.
It’s pretty clear now that I think I was stalling and a little bit worried that I would pick the wrong course. What if I moved to a city and hated it? What if the course turned out to be crap? What if I failed, or dropped out as a result?
All those anxious feelings that I had as a potential undergrad came back to me, and it wasn’t like I didn’t have the same fears with the OU, of course I did!
So why did I sign up?
The beauty of living on a boat is that in theory, I could up and leave and go anywhere along the canal. I could leave next week and make a new life for myself back up North, I could head for London, or Bath (somewhere I dream of living still, for a short while). Don’t get me wrong, I love Chester and I’ve got some happy memories here, but I don’t view it as my ‘forever home’. Having a boat allows me (again, in theory) to explore these places, and I can carry all my shit with me.
Similarly, the beauty of the OU is that I can be anywhere in the UK and still study for my MA. I’m not tied to a specific campus (although I’m free to use their Milton Keynes base should I choose), I don’t have to attend lectures (there are many across the country I can sign up to if I want) and all the facilities I require are online.
Of course, I didn’t simply chose to go with the OU because it was ‘convenient’, if I wanted pure convenience, I would have studied at the University of Chester again, it was cheaper, I knew my way around, it was a safe bet. Personally, I thought the course the OU provided offered much more variety than anything Chester (or anywhere else) had to offer.
The course looks at a wide range of texts from all manner of angles, from Ancient Greek plays, to Brecht, from Byron and Milton to Jean Rhys and John Coetzee. We look at classic works and modern interpretations from a different standpoint, be it gender, colonialism, post-colonialism, psychoanalytical, sexual, etc. By covering this broad range of topics (English Literature is after all, an enormous subject) it pushes me out of my comfort zone, forces me to look at authors I perhaps wouldn’t have bothered reading before now, helps me explore literary alleys I’d never gone down before, and basically, for want of a better phrase, keeps things interesting.
As the OU generally operates online (there are a few group seminars, usually one for each new module), it requires an awful lot of self-discipline on the students behalf. I realise for some people this would be a struggle, to come out of studying for a year and getting back into it, entirely off your own back can be difficult. Thankfully you’re never on your own. The beauty of the OU operating online is that there is a wealth of support to be found in the module forums. You are assigned a tutor and a tutor group which makes you feel even less like you’re the only one studying.
I’ll admit, when I first signed up I wondered if I was the only one studying the course this year, but as time went on and I started using the facilities, I found there’s LOADS of us studying the same course, all over the country.
While the online resources are pretty good, and very useful for your study, it’s worth making sure you have access to a good University Library before you sign up to study. I was pretty lucky in that I’m alumni with Chester, I can swan into the library whenever I choose and do some work. I was pretty thankful of it for my most recent module, studying Coriolanus I quickly found out that the OU didn’t have any online resources for the module (something I found a little bit ridiculous, but oh well, I dealt with it). I was grateful that I had access to Seaborne Library, otherwise I fear I would have struggled to do my assignment properly.
Not only does access to a good library aid in your study, it’s also nice to have a change of scenery away from staring at a computer screen.
As I said earlier, in studying with the OU, you really have to kick your own ass into getting things done, so the workload can very depending on how organised you are. Obviously I can only speak for my English MA, but generally I’ve found the workload quite manageable. You have all your deadlines given to you at the start of the year, meaning you always have the next date to work towards, and in terms of the time you should be looking to put into your course each week, they recommend about 16 hours which is easy to spread out over a few evenings/weekends.
You don’t HAVE to stick to this, I certainly don’t, but it’s good to offer a guideline of what you should be working towards.
Assignments are all submitted online; I’m currently working towards number 4 of 5 this year.
Earlier I mentioned funding an MA. When I graduated funding wasn’t readily available for students to continue on to postgraduate study. Although it was only a few years ago now, for me, it felt almost like the richer, ‘luckier’ people got to carry on studying and the rest of us had to either work full-time for a few years until we’d saved enough money to go back, OR simply abandon all hope and join the rat race indefinitely.
Finally the Government decided to do something about it and currently (although who knows what may happen after the General Election) Student Finance England offer loans of up to £10,000 for students to continue studying at post-graduate level.
Approaching this, I initially thought I would only really need to borrow a minimal amount to cover the cost of the course and any books I might need. I had fully expected the same process many undergrad students experience when applying for finance. They want to know your life story, your parents life story, your blood group, your SATs results, your shoe size etc etc (I’m joking, but they need a LOT of financial information to accurately decide how much they aren’t willing to give you).
The process for postgrad funding is VASTLY different. I was astonished. They only really wanted your address, bank account details, the course you’re applying for and then YOU decide how much money you want.
I couldn’t believe it.
Naturally, this meant I took the whole 10K and didn’t even bat an eyelid. The odds of me ever paying that ridiculous amount of student debt back are ridiculously slim anyway, so sod it.
It’s probably a bad attitude to have, but I want my MA…
Anyway, all was well and good until I received an email from the OU informing me I had to pay the course fees (about £3,500) in full by the 25th of August 2016, otherwise I’d be kicked off the course.
I’m sorry, what?
My first loan instalment wasn’t due to go into my bank account until October 1st, and it didn’t even cover half the amount they were after.
After many a panicked, angry, frustrated phone call between SFE and OU, I was directed to the Open University’s own payment scheme OUSBA that deals with exactly these situations.
Basically, because the Open University doesn’t deal with SFE directly (as it’s a postgraduate loan) they simply want the money in full before I start my course, or I have to take out a second loan with OUSBA to pay my course fees up front, and I used my SFE loan to pay them back, with added interest, of course.
I mean, I could have backed out and decided to go to a different university, it seemed like a lot of hassle, and I wasn’t really sure who to be angry with. The OU should have made it totally clear they wanted their fees up front and SFE should be aware of the different Universities payment requirements.
It baffles me that SFE are so willing to basically give away such vast sums of money without having an accurate picture of when they’re really required the most. I can’t help but feel that if they communicated with each other (Universities generally and the SFE) then perhaps I wouldn’t have had to take out the second loan with OUSBA.
Things may have changed for this year, I’m hoping they have, but if not, it’s definitely something worth knowing about. Don’t get caught out like me!
So, 2,200 words later (sorry!) I think I’ve said pretty much all I want to say about my experience with the Open University thus far. If you have any questions or if you also study/studied at the OU then do let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Till next time,