Now is the time of year when students return to university. For the majority of my life, I doubted my suitability as a potential student. I would walk past university buildings, feeling that I would never be able to cross that boundary,thus enabling myself to obtain a university education. It would be patronizing to say that everyone should have a degree. But I believe that everyone, no matter how poor, should have the opportunity to study at university and then decide for themselves.We are all aware of the increase in tuition fees from 2012, which I consider an absolute disgrace. People who have similar backgrounds to myself will be repelled at the prospect of having to pay so much money for their education.
Placing the issue of combined tuition fees and student loans to one side, there is still a fundamental problem. There are certain people who simply cannot imagine themselves at university. Perhaps their parents didn’t encourage them enough, educating yourself was not seen as worthwhile. Maybe they have criminal records or ill health; perhaps both. I don’t believe that I am the only person whose background seemed a hindrance to going to university. There have been many people before myself and I have even met a few, who have overcome obstacles and who have thrived in higher education. I must admit though, for the first year I seemed to constantly expect a tap on the shoulder and to hear the words “How did you get in here?”
Now as I sit looking out of the university library on the other side of the boundary, there is something I want universities to do. I want them to open their doors to anyone who wants to study,who is passionate about a subject or just wants to learn more. For so much of the time parts of the university sit empty. So what am I doing about this?
On a module last we were set the task of creating an imagined project which had to include plans, costings, dry runs etc. I designed a twelve week project aimed at adults on Incapacity Benefit, which consisted of utilizing different narrative techniques, in order to write about themselves from differing perspectives. I was partly inspired by Nick Rowe of York St. John University and an arts project he helped in designing (see “Border Crossings: Art and health work in a university”, Journal of Applied Arts and Health, vol 1, no.3 2010, pp241-250. This offered mental health services users to opportunity to participate in university life.
I realize that everything costs money, but there is no reason why final year and postgradute students could not assist in the delivery of the course. The aims of these projects are for participants to produce a final piece of work and gain some insights into themselves. Perhap most importantly, it could be the first step in crossing the boundary into university, if that’s what the participants so desired.
Universities should reach out to the groups that much of society has written off. These boundaries are still in place and people still are or feel excluded. As I sit on the inside looking out and if I do nothing- What does that make me? The challenge I have is making the imagined become real.
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