University Beckons

Steven Hill [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, at approximately 5:30pm, I will begin the 20-hour journey which shall take me to university in Edinburgh.  This is both nerve-wracking and exciting beyond belief – and my time will probably be significantly taken up by concentrating on settling in, Fresher’s week, studies, and so on.  So this blog might be quiet for a while.  Hopefully I’ll find time to write a thing or two here and there, but I won’t even attempt to stick to any schedules until I’m fully into the flow of university life.  Once I am, I’ll probably aim to continue the rate of something like 3 posts a week.

There’s a few elections coming up and I was initially planning to cover each in depth in a similar vein to how I discussed Australian polling a month ago, but since I’ve simply run out of time I’ll just have to give a brief summary of each one:

7th September 2013 – Australian General Election
When I made that last update on Australian polling it looked as though there might be some hope for the Labor Party, which experienced a boost in ratings since Kevin Rudd usurped Julia Gillard as party leader, but this seems to have since subsided.  No poll has shown the Labor party ahead in the Two-Party Preferred Vote since the end of July, in in the last week the Liberal/National Coalition has regularly been ahead by 2-3%.  This would be enough to give them somewhere around 83 – 86 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives – a clear majority.  So while nothing can ever be certain in politics – the race is tight enough for this to not entirely be a foregone conclusion – it’s difficult to envisage a scenario in which Tony Abbot doesn’t become Australia’s next Prime Minister.

7th September 2013 – Maldivian Presidential Election
Because the issue of elections in the Maldives is so complex, and as I know so little about it, nothing I can write here will really do it justice.  The island-nation of 320,000 experienced its first free polls in 2008 and, despite hiccups, seemed on generally the right path towards democracy.  Unfortunately, like most first tries at democracy, this collapsed in 2012 with what is widely considered a coup which removed President Nasheed and replaced him with his vice President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan.  Mohamed Nasheed claimed to have been forced to resign at gunpoint, effectively making this a military-backed coup.  I haven’t particularly followed events since but I have noticed an upsurge in stories of human rights abuse which have concerned rights groups including Amnesty International.  So I can’t really say what I think will happen in this presidential election, but I really hope it can put the country back on the track towards democracy.

9th September 2013 – Norwegian Parliamentary Election
Things don’t look great for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway since 2005.  Leader of the Labour Party, he has governed Norway as part of the ‘Red-Green’ coalition, also including the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party.  He only just clung onto power in the 2009 elections, when his coalition won fewer votes than the opposition but through quirks of the system managed to win the most seats.  This resulted in calls for an overhall of the electoral system, which as far as I’m aware haven’t been implemented.

A look at opinion polls shows that recently, beginning in May 2012, the Conservative Party began to enjoy a lead.  Since I last checked the Labour Party had actually managed to get ahead by a few percentage points as the most popular party – I wonder if Stoltenberg’s side job as a taxi driver helped? – but the Red-Green Coalition as a whole is being overtaken by the opposition due to the poor results for the Socialist Left and Centre Parties.  In terms of seats, while it’s possible that the Labour Party might be the largest party, the Conservative-led opposition coalition looks set to pick up a lead of 20-30 seats as a whole in the parliament of 169 seats.  The latest estimate I can see it 96 seats for the opposition and 71 for the Red-Green Coalition, despite the Labour Party beating the Conservatives by 54 seats to 46.  In conclusion, I would imagine that this result would see Stoltenberg be replaced as Prime Minister by either Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party or Siv Jensen of the Progress Party.  Like Australia, red will probably fade to blue.

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Tuition Fees (And Why I Love the Scottish Government)

I just want to make a brief post in which I gush at how grateful I am towards the policies of the current Scottish National Party administration within the Scottish government which allow students studying for their first degree to be excempt from paying tuition fees.  Yesterday I received a letter from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland in which they promised to pay the roughly £1,800 yearly fee to study at Edinburgh University.  I have to apply again each year, but over the course of four years this will have saved me £7,200.  And the fee of £1,800 is incredibly modest! (I can’t help wondering how much a student from south would have to pay).

Compare this to the system in England and Wales: yearly tuition fees which can be up to £9,000 a year, after the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition as Westminster introduced them a couple of years ago.  Over a standard three-year course (it’s generally four years in Scotland) this would leave many students up to £27,000 in debt.  It’s abhorrent, and I deeply pity everyone subject to this hopefully temporary measure.  I can understand why the Scottish government has decided to make tuition fees apply to students from England and Wales – otherwise Scottish students would likely lose out as our universities would become understandably swamped – but I certainly wish there were another way.  It’s as if the young people of England and Wales are being punished for having the misfortune to have simply been born where they were. 

University is expensive.  As I’ll be moving to Edinburgh I will also have to worry about the costs of accommodation and also just the costs of living independently without a stable income.  I’m in the fortunate position of having some money available to me for university and I will never take this for granted, but I know so many other students will find it a financial struggle.  Abolishing tuition fees for a first degree massively reduces this struggle, therefore working to break down the class barrier and, within a generation, improving the skills of the population as a whole.

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Leaving School

Having sat my final exam (Higher Religious, Moral and Philisophical Studies), I have now left school. This is so incredibly difficult to comprehend! 13 years of my life, now standing aside to let me onto the next, far more uncertain, path. I’m really not sure what to even write here; it can’t really be summed up in words. I felt a strange kind of nostalgia leaving the school for the final time, returning to memories I had at various locations, imagining the ghosts of people I used to speak with and enjoy the company of – some of whom left school a year ago. And this is just for the school I’ve been at for the last two years which, strangely, I’m much sadder leaving that I was the school of eleven years.

Still, university beckons.  I’m not *really* leaving school, just advancing on to the next stage.  And I have four whole years to figure out how to avoid actually growing up and becoming an adult for the next time I’m forced out of a stage of education!

Brief University Update: St. Andrews

Today, my tour of Scottish universities, having previously covered Glasgow and Edinburgh, was rounded off with a look at the University of St. Andrews.  Having fallen in love with Edinburgh and its university, I almost felt like a fraud being shown around St. Andrews, and then having a personal discussion with a representative from the university over aspects of studying there.  St. Andrews has a reputation of snobbery, of privilege – Prince William, for instance – and of existing in a state of Splendid Isolation, so I was curious how far these perceptions would be challenged by reality, and whether I could be tempted away from Edinburgh.

On the whole, the visit failed in its intentions.  Upon first arriving at the town of St. Andrews, despite the picturesque scenery of green fields and massive rivers – which are mostly alien to me – it became clear that this is not somewhere I would thrive in.  The streets, quiet and plain (possibly due to students, a third of the town’s population, being on Easter break) are eerily similar to those you might find in the town of Lerwick in Shetland, where I live – the sort of streets I would really like a change from.  By no means is St. Andrews dislikeable town with its coastal and historic beauty, but having just arrived from Edinburgh it really does lack in areas such as research opportunities, literary and political activity, the diversity you could only find in a city, etc.  And I would imagine the view of endless golf courses might become tiring and claustrophobic after four years.

The university itself seems alright, though the tour had a large focus on its frankly bizarre traditions, which includes parading across the pier in red cloaks, being adopted into student ‘families’, and having massive shaving foam fights in the centre of the university.  These crazy traditions may be endearing to some, but I personally would probably sit in my dormitory and read until it’s over.  St. Andrews seems to exemplify your typical rural but vibrant town, your ancient settlement with queer traditions.  I suspect me real reason of disliking it is the large similarities it holds with Shetland; the break is simply not clean enough between the quiet life of my childhood and the life of what I hope will become a prolific future.

This trip has been highly interested.  Glasgow proved better than expected and St. Andrews worse but Edinburgh, as expected, looks set to be my second home for the next four years.

Brief University Post: Glasgow

I might be quiet on the blog this week, because I’m spending a week touring the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and St. Andrews to help me in the final decision of choosing a place.

Today we went to look at the University of Glasgow.  This was my first proper look at the city of Glasgow, let alone the university.  Glasgow suffers from a reputation of experiencing high crime, high poverty and low standards of living.  Although we only passed through the town center and the university, and didn’t go near some of the more deprived areas I believe to exist in the east end, I saw nothing to back up this reputation.  Glasgow is a beautiful, simply laid out (so square-shaped!), vibrant city which I enjoyed visiting.  We only breezed through, but I’d certainly like to make another visit one day.  Or, who knows, possibly even live there.

The university itself was wonderful.  Such an academic, lively hub.  The architecture is awe-inspiring, with grand staircases climbing the walls, entire halls of pillars and exquisite ‘quadrangle’ courtyards.  Every inch is steeped in deep history.  I was enthused by talks I received on the English Literature course, and on the Arts faculty in general.  However, I wasn’t largely impressed with the university library.  Oh well.

I’m in Edinburgh now.  Tomorrow I shall visit the University of Edinburgh, and on Friday it’s St. Andrews.  Still completely undecided… I guess I shouldn’t complain at the choice!

My Varied Week

Warning: this post goes into detail about the ups and downs of my past week.  May involve mild feelings.  If you’re of the irritating belief that we should all be living ice people with stiff lips then you may find this vaguely offensive, though there’s nothing too obscene.

One word: Prelims.  If you know what this means I expect you to be recoiling in horror right now and if you don’t, well, you are envied by many.  Basically, preliminary examinations which act as a kind of practice run before the final exams.  They do count for getting into courses which start before you get results for the final exams, and can also be used in appeals, but I’m in the fortunate position of relying on neither since I already have the grades I need.

So, why was it so Hellish?  Simply, all four of my exams were scheduled between four days of one another.  I am, of course, grateful that I have the opportunity to sit any exams – but did it have to be so stressful?  I’ve spent most of the last month either doing research for my history dissertation (“How great an effect did the pressures of foreign countries have on Apartheid policies between 1960 and 1984?”) and NABs (other horrific ‘unit passes’, which you need to pass in order to sit the final exam).  So basically, I had no time to revise for the exams.

Then I caught a cold.  And snow swept across the island.  It’s as if the world has been conspiring to make me perform as badly as possible in the Prelims!  It’s fair to say this past week wasn’t an enjoyable experience – particularly the three hour Advanced Higher history exam… I still shudder at the thought.  But, somehow, I managed to get to all four of my exams and actually seemed to do alright.  Not had any of the results yet – not that they’re very important at this stage – but I performed as well as I could have hoped.

The most varied day of all was Wednesday, the Hellish history exam.  I genuinely felt in a state of mild shock afterwards, consumed by numbness, unable to get my head out of Apartheid South Africa (not the nicest of places).  A couple of people described me as ‘shell-shocked’, amusingly.  I guess the length of the exam, the longest I’ve ever sat, took it out of me.  I hear exams at university typically last three hours… *another shudder*.  Interestingly, St. Andrews chose that day to let me know they’d offered me an unconditional place to study English.

I HAVE A PLACE AT ST. ANDREWS!!  How did that happen?  That’s so amazing!  I’m so lucky!

And I’m probably going to turn it down.  Hah.  I’m not sure yet, and wouldn’t like to say anything for sure.  I guess, having grown up on a remote island, I’d prefer to live somewhere well connected like a city.  And St. Andrews, for all its prestige, has a very negative reputation of royalty and privilege – neither of which I’m a great fan of!  I’ll have to visit, of course.  It’s exciting to tell people I’ve been offered a place, anyway.  Someone told me I would be ‘mad’ to turn it down.  Am I?

So yeah, that was my dramatic week.  How was yours?

Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year 2012

The Oxford Dictionary had declared that its word of the year for 2012 is ‘omnishambles’.  This is in reference to the increasing use of the word to describe the UK’s coalition government, particularly by the opposition.  It first came into popular use when Labour leader Ed Miliband in April used it to describe the government’s budget as being an all-encompassing shamble.  I’ve never heard of the ‘Word of the Year’ before, but it sounds like the kind of award I’d approve of!  I’m not sure what my word of the year would be.  ‘Lightning’, possibly.  Or ‘university’.  Hm…

Sorry for the lack of posts again – I’m still busy working on the house, as well as catching up on schoolwork over our Christmas holidays.  The post spamming shall hopefully return soon!