By Timothy Neill and Edited by Tom Guyton-Day
I remember vividly where I was when I got my University acceptance. It was during a visit to the London 2012 Olympics as me and my father waited on the train that would take us back to where we were staying for the evening. I thought this was going to be the next big chapter of my life. The final year of the Scottish school system exists pretty much exclusively (for those whose grades are high enough) to get you prepared for the University environment and submitting the all-important UCAS form. My disability meant I wasn't going outside my hometown, but it will still a fantastic feeling to have made it this far. I was intrigued to see where my Media degree would take me next.
Cut to the opening of first semester. In several ways I was surprised how much Media as a degree discipline was simply an extension of the latter school years. Not only in terms of the very school like timetable structure (which is likely the case for most degrees) but more related to the central subject being such a broad topic area.
Traditionally a University course would enable the students to specialise and focus in on a subject area that would allow them to gain specific knowledge that increases their employability. In broad creative focused degree such as Media the focus is more on teaching “a little about a lot” as opposed to “a lot about a little.” This may prove effective for some learners in giving them a broad range of skills that makes them potentially employable in a number of areas but without any real focus a lot of the modules and topics come down to individual skill rather than testing knowledge retention of the specifically taught material.
This initially took me by surprise. I was not entirely sure whether this course would stand me in good stead going forward. Nevertheless, determination and persistence got me through the areas of the course I was a lot less comfortable with. It also enabled me to meet a variety of new people to whom I could showcase my skills regardless of external factors. This increased confidence in my own ability's really saw me through some difficult times and was the one major benefit I gained with my University experience.
As the years passed not much changed. Modules and classes passed by regularly with various levels of impact and I gained several stories which could be happily be trotted out as effective conversation starters for years to come. That said, as my final year approached, that was the nagging feeling that I still did not know what the most effective path for me would be given I had a degree covering so many areas. When I went to the open day, I was essentially gated out of enrolling on the Journalism programme because its leader believed the programme was not suitable for those with physical disabilities (like me.) There was an enormous sense of pride and the feeling I had proverbially stuck it to the man given that I had made it this far taking an alternative course. Nevertheless, I always questioned how things might have turned out if I had concentrated on a more focused area of study.
When it came time for graduation the difference between those that had really bought into the bond between course mates and those that had mostly kept their distance but were still proud of their achievements was palpable. Whether or not this would have been different with a smaller intake and more focused direction remains to be seen but it's a topic that has always fascinated me.
A great deal of what is involved in the selling of further/ higher education is all about the university culture and potential lifelong friendships that could be made off the back of shared experience. I'm not saying this is wrong, as it will depend hugely on course of study, individual investment and expectation but I did want to share my experience, having graduated with an incredibly broad degree. I don't regret the time spent completing my course, but I would say that in my experience in creative focused degrees will depend highly on individual investments both in terms of coursework and investment within the University culture.