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Wed Aug 27, 2008 1:22 am
I am getting very frustrated with the administrators at the University of Sunderland. I knew when I applied for the course that I shouldn't expect the place to run as smoothly as Cambridge, as it hasn't got half the funding or the prestige. But now I have run out of excuses.
The preliminary certificate officially began on 7th July. I joined the course a couple of weeks late, due to not getting my exam results until 22nd June. (I applied as soon as I had them, as instructed by Sunderland.) A few days after receiving my acceptance letter, I was told that until I signed and returned a special registration form that I had never even heard of, I would not be able to access the online material or complete any assignments (all of which are to be done online).
The admin department began pestering me for the return of these forms even before they had posted them to me. When the forms finally did arrive, I saw that they were full of mistakes. They were based on the details that I had provided during my application, and I was meant to verify that all was correct. I don't know who prepared these documents, but whoever it was had written that I have no disabilities (I ticked 'Multiple Disabilities' on the form and explained my problems succinctly but clearly). More intriguingly still, the form also stated that I have no undergraduate degree. As you can't get on this course without holding a prior degree, I don't know how the admin personnel came to make such a mistake.
These forms were accompanied by a blank bill ("Treat this as an invoice...") that was dated 2007. I rang up the university to inform them that their invoice was invalid due to the error in the date, and also because it didn't have any figures on it. The lady who answered the phone said that there must have been a clerical error that was nothing to do with her, so she referred me to someone else. Who referred me to someone else. Who told me that the woman in charge of finances is on holiday for three weeks, so this can't be sorted before then.
As patiently as possible, I explained that I am nearly two months behind and that until I have paid my fee I will not be issued with my username and password. This means that I can't do any work. The woman seemed quite ignorant of the university's system, and sounded shocked to hear this news. She understood completely when I said that I couldn't really afford to fall three months behind, especially as the preliminary certificate only lasts for six months. The other students will be halfway through the course by the time the bursar returns. The woman on the phone told me that she would see what she could do about the problem and promised to ring me with some news on Monday or Tuesday.
She didn't ring. Now I have to face another battle of wits with Sunderland's switchboard. More upsettingly, I will be charged the full course fee for this certificate when the bursar returns from her holiday - even though I will have missed half of it by then. It doesn't seem fair that I should pay the full fee for the privilege of having to do a lot of catching up in my own time, whilst receiving half the supervision and guidance that the other students have had.
I have the option to defer the certificate until January, which would mean that I enter the full MSc programme in September 2009. It looks as though this is what I'm going to have to do - that's if Durham or Newcastle don't succeed in seducing me before that point. I don't want to sound snobbish, but I miss being at a high-quality university. If I e-mailed somebody in Cambridge with a query, I would get a response within the hour (well, unless it was the middle of the night). Here I have to wait for days, and even then I might just get told to e-mail somebody else.
The other big problem, of course, is that I have extreme difficulties with short-term memory and personal organisation myself. The university is meant to be providing me with special help because of these things. Unfortunately it would appear that I am having to organise them, so I don't really see how they're going to deliver on disability provision.
Wed Aug 27, 2008 4:12 am
To be honest, its not surprising to me, I've heard the mackems are terrible with their university organisation in general from a few friends that have come and went there. The only real solution is to keep your cool, or else nothing happens. You'd think there'd be a lot of dedication throughout the University networks up here, but its just the typical favouritism towards the Southern cities, less dosh to throw out onto making things worthwhile. I've no idea what Newcastle and Durham are like but I've just heard bad things about Sunderland, I'm VERY tempted to put in some err "Banter" as its called, but we see it as more factual
Hope you get it sorted, if you want to get anything done in this country you got to complain, several hundred times. Patience and resisting the urge to kill, although you'd earn Geordie favour that way.
Wed Aug 27, 2008 9:08 am
If it's any comfort I know what it's like. I had the same sort of ordeal when I was starting my degree.
Before starting at my current uni (Caledonian), I enroled doing primary teaching at Paisley (now "University of the West of Scotland"
). It was awful. One of my friends who was also on that course wasn't listed on any of their timetables. It was as if she didn't exist. Student services? "Oh it's not my job to help students, dear," so what exactly
is her job? They also had this bizarre idea that when they changed the timetable, they would put it up on a notice board. What they didn't think on was that moving a class to an hour earlier meant that we weren't there yet - we couldn't read the notice boards!
Two weeks into the course - and a string of errors later - I decided to leave. I'd had an offer for computer science at my current uni too, so I got in touch and asked if they had any places left. They were really helpful and said that some people hadn't turned up, so if I came in they'd do all the paperwork. Or so they thought...
Paisley suddenly forgot that I'd left. They were claiming fees, grants, etc. from the government as if I was still there. Caledonian got in touch with them several times, but they claimed couldn't discuss that with anyone except me. I mean, it was no secret that I'd left. UCAS knew that I had the new place.
When I phoned Paisley myself, they claimed not to know anything about it. Not only did they not know I'd left, they said they didn't have any record of me at all. But it didn't stop them claiming the fees (meaning that Caledonian couldn't, so technically I couldn't start). The whole thing went on for months, but Caley were really good and let me do everything without the fees. I think they eventually managed to get them back from Paisley in March
So like I say, I know a bit of what it's like. There seems to be an enormous difference between well-run universities and badly-run ones.
Wed Aug 27, 2008 1:46 pm
If I were you I would defer until January. How annoying Vicky!
Wed Aug 27, 2008 3:37 pm
This must be really frustrating..I would be worried aswell if I was the one having to organise them! Out of interest, why didn't you stay at Cambridge to do this course, Vicky? Or don't they offer it?
Wed Aug 27, 2008 4:54 pm
I need to be in the North East as this is where Danni lives. I am her long-term carer now. Danni wouldn't be able to see her daughter if she moved away from here, and she needs to remain near a medical team that knows her well. Besides that, I can't see the two of us being particularly comfortable all squashed up in student accommodation in Cambridge.
Wed Aug 27, 2008 5:32 pm
I need to be in the North East as this is where Danni lives. I am her long-term carer now. Danni wouldn't be able to see her daughter if she moved away from here, and she needs to remain near a medical team that knows her well. Besides that, I can't see the two of us being particularly comfortable all squashed up in student accommodation in Cambridge. Wink
Arrh, now I remember- sorry, I forgot!
Wed Aug 27, 2008 8:55 pm
I don't want to sound pessimistic Vicky but I really don't think that a uni which treats you this way is going to deliver at all in the future. My university gave me grief before I'd started by being disorganised. This continued leaving me very angry and frustrated and now unable to leave. I'd strongly suggest you look at other universities within your region.
Wed Aug 27, 2008 9:18 pm
I have to say I agree with Spoon-it is appalling that a "professional" instituation is treating you in this way! If they are this disorganised about sorting out new students, what are they going to be like with marking the assessments?
Wed Aug 27, 2008 10:49 pm
I have been in touch with one of my old supervisors at Cambridge. She has offered to write me a reference and help me to draft a PhD proposal if I want to go back into English literature. Newcastle University offers an excellent integrated PhD. I am tempted.
I never like giving something up once I've set my mind to do it. This is a feature of my ASD, and it can lead to an unhelpful level of obsessiveness and rigidity unless I check it. It can also be a positive attribute - in the past it has kept me steady and focused when I was working on projects that I loved and that other people considered inadvisable. In this case, I feel in my heart of hearts that it would be best to drop the psychology programme entirely and perhaps take it up with the Open University at a later date.
I would like to work in the field of mental health. Clinical psychology seems the profession most in accord with my abilities and aspirations, but now I'm wondering whether there might not be other ways in. The first year of the integrated PhD (the MA year) has some very interesting modules on trauma theory and literary representations of traumatic events, such as the Holocaust. My PhD proper would be on the development of a symbolic language in literature of the Holocaust. (I wrote an undergraduate dissertation on this and I loved it.) I also have some ideas on writing as therapy that I would like to explore. This may be possible. I will have to think about it all very hard.
Sun Aug 31, 2008 9:57 pm
I think the PhD option sounds really good, Vicky. I share your 'sticking with things' principle, I also find changing my mind about things difficult, I tend to plan things way in advance and want to stick ridgidly to these plans. But I also agree with what everyone else is saying, if Sunderland is letting you down so early in your studies it's doubtful as to the quality of education you will receive there (and I'm not just saying that because deep down I've decided I want to keep my psychology textbooks!) You never know though, people have different jobs within the Uni and although the admin people sound, well, rubbish the teaching may be a lot better. If you're planning to stay there I think your best bet is what you suggested and enter the programme next year. But that's just my opinion and I know very little of your situation, of course.
Cambridge did sound amazingly good for students with disabilities, from what you have told me. I have to say my own Uni is not so good... it isn't a terrible place or anything and the psychology department as a whole is very good but I do think the support I have received for my difficulties has been inadequate. For example, it is written in my study needs agreement that I am supposed to have lecture slides e-mailed to me by lecturers if they aren't available before the lecture (most staff members put them up beforehand so we can see them but every now and again they don't get put up) but in the two years I have been studying at the Uni this has NEVER been done. I also never received the extra tuition in statistics that was recommended by the ed psyc. when she carried out her assessment in my first semester at the Uni.
Sun Aug 31, 2008 10:18 pm
For example, it is written in my study needs agreement that I am supposed to have lecture slides e-mailed to me by lecturers if they aren't available before the lecture (most staff members put them up beforehand so we can see them but every now and again they don't get put up) but in the two years I have been studying at the Uni this has NEVER been done.
SNAP! Only one of my lecturers sent me the slides in advance! In fairness, the autism support I received was superb though.
Mon Sep 01, 2008 11:51 am
The teaching quality does look excellent. We have two main tutors, one a medical doctor and one a specialist in cognitive psychology, with a particular interest in linguistics. There is a third tutor whose specialism I don't know. I liked the idea of being taught biological and neuropsychology by a physician, as I thought it would enhance my understanding of the subject. (The biochemistry module was my second weakest when I did psychology at A-level.) But to get on the course I need to get past the admin, and they are not exactly being helpful at the moment. It is very frustrating.
I have a job interview on 4th September for an advocacy position with a mental health charity. I would be working directly with people who have severe mental illness, primarily schizophrenia. The contract is for one year. If I got this post it would help me to clarify my ideas about the role I want to take within the mental health sector and the best way to get there. I hope I manage it.
Mon Sep 01, 2008 2:48 pm
*hugs* Whatever you decide to do, everyone here wll support you.
Can you e-mail your would-be tutors abut this? They have more clout when dealing with Admin, and probably know the system better.
Mon Sep 01, 2008 6:35 pm
Good luck with your job interview Vicky.
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