Why I wish I'd dropped out of university

 

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The Independent Online

I graduated this summer from Warwick University and thereby ended the worst three years of my life.

I studied English, after switching from history. I had seminars of 12 people in lecturers' offices no bigger than an average garden shed, a seven-hour a week timetable for 17 weeks a year, unfriendly and rarely available lecturers and tedious, rambling lectures.

University was like experiencing the shock of retirement, suddenly having hours and hours of free time to fill. The boredom and apathy that a seven-hour week induces should not be underestimated.

Having originally had hopes of a first, and marks that suggested it was possible, I eventually became de-motivated and apathetic.

If I'd got a third I would still have felt mostly relief at finishing. In my final year I had, in almost half of my 20 weeks of teaching, five hours or fewer of teaching. This is in a four-day week. Some students in my department had a three-day week.

The dearth of lectures and seminars meant they really would have had to be of a high standard to make the whole experience worthwhile, but this was not the case.

One elderly tutor would ramble, eyes shut, for an hour in a way only loosely connected with the subject; one told us that seminars were all about what we could teach each other (which raised the question of what exactly she was being paid for) and left us to it; and one likeably eccentric man would hold forth on where the best tailors could be found in Modena, and other sundry irrelevant subjects.

In my three years, only two of my courses had well-run, productive, interesting seminars where there was genuine debate and interest.

When perusing league tables, remember that they bear little relation to actual life at the university. I was taught in the English and history departments, which are rated top ten nationally. Yet I had to put up with bad organisation, paltry feedback and some incompetently led seminars. If the league tables and assessments are accurate, and Warwick really is one of the best, then national standards must be at a scandalous low.

I suspect that good performance in league tables betrays, in fact, a prioritisation of points-chasing over teaching. Certainly Warwick never misses an opportunity to get lecturers on the radio or in the papers while little is done about student depression.

The universities that are ranked highly can get away with such a small amount of teaching because they can select the students they want, meaning that the people that get in are those that don't need much teaching.

This can clearly be seen in the difference between the popular humanities, in which a ten-hour week is unusually full, and less popular science courses like engineering where struggling students receive plenty of contact time and even extra coaching.

So what lesson can be drawn? My three years at Warwick University were a waste of time. Had I known at the start what I know now I would have dropped out. If you start university and don't like the lecturers, people and culture, drop out. Go and do something that you enjoy and are enthused by. You will be doing yourself a favour.

Warwick replies: "It's a great pity if Tim Clist felt this strongly for three years without once raising his concerns with a tutor, student representative or an independent counsellor. Warwick has a number of mechanisms in place to ensure that complaints are heard fairly and, if something isn't working, that it can be put right. It also has an effective pastoral support system to assist students in personal difficulties. Time and time again, these have been commended by the Quality Assurance Agency.

Tim Clist graduated with a 2.1 - a good degree. Both the English and history departments at Warwick are rated as "excellent" and regular student feedback demonstrates that Tim Clist's experience of Warwick is far from typical.

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