Hooray, it’s Monday! A brand new week! A fresh start! Potentially the beginning of the best week of your life! Joy and fuzzy feelings for all!!
Bit too cheerful? Sorry, I’ll tone it down a bit.
Today I would like to show you the most upsetting and infuriating thing I’ve clapped eyes on since my house mate made me watch Jingle All the Way.
Here it is:
My university is discontinuing my degree course. What the actual hell.
Perhaps this shouldn’t bother me so much. After all, I graduated three years ago. I spent four years doing spinal rolls and writing essays (and drinking cider and other extracurricular activities that we don’t need to go into here). At the end of it all I got to spend a day wearing a fancy gown and throwing my hat in the air. In short, I got my degree. So why do I have a problem with this?
First of all, it seems to be symptomatic of the degeneration of higher education in general. People not being able to afford university fees means fewer applicants to previously popular courses, and eventually the courses become too expensive to justify running. Due to the screw up with student fees (thanks a lot Clegg, you asshat), university education has gone from being something that anyone could pursue to something that requires re-mortgaging your kidneys. This is unfair and elitist, and it can only lead to an increased class division between those who can afford university and those who cannot. Why on earth should something as arbitrary as wealth decide your academic path?
Secondly and more specifically, my drama degree is the bee’s knees. I realise that I’m pretty biased about this point, but for people like me that course was the making of us. The fourth year of the course is the main selling point of the degree, because it’s that final push in the right direction that gave us all the impetus to pursue our careers. My Masters in Directing got me to start up Empty Photo Theatre. A lot of the guys who took Stand-Up Comedy are still gigging now (and doing insanely well, in many cases). My friends Laura and Jess set up the arts charity Ingeenium because of their year specialising in Applied Performance Practice, and Little Cauliflower would not exist if those guys hadn’t specialised in Contemporary Performance Practice.
At £9,000 a year in fees, who is going to opt for a four-year course when they can just do a BA? It’s such a shame that fear of lifelong debt is going to deprive future students of a lifelong creative passion. Essentially, the most important thing about that four-year course is that it taught us to make our own work. You will never find a Kent graduate sitting around waiting for the phone to ring – we get out there and we do stuff. Dozens of excellent professional theatre companies, performers, writers, directors and producers have come out of my university. And they are not happy about this situation:
“It’s a terrible shame that the Conservative ideal of economic viability being the presiding factor in academia has forced such a unique course that has value beyond the career it may or may not instantly provide for you. The fourth year of specialised study at the University of Kent trained, inspired and invigorated me in ways that the previous three years of undergraduate study never did, and I know that I’m not alone in that. My greatest fear is that great traditions within the university, such as the Monkeyshine comedy club and the week of directors’ plays, may fall casualty to this horrid decision and be lost forever.”
“It seems a shame that UKC has discontinued one of the only university courses that actually gave students an idea of the working practice of the theatre. I understand that as a qualification on a piece of paper the MDrama is next to useless and causes an endless need to explain exactly what on earth an MDrama is, however that extra year gave us the focus and work skills we needed to succeed that the general study in the other three years didn’t. The drama department at UKC however seems to have gone down hill in recent years with budget cuts, unexplained course changes and staff losses and losing the fourth year as an undergraduate seems another cut that only lessens the experience for the students.”
“I think it’s really sad, I found it to be such a fun and interesting year to specialise in one subject for a year, in something I never thought I’d even get the chance to do. It really got you to grips with a specific area and focussing on a particular topic, rather than just kind of glancing over a few areas. It’s a shame more people won’t experience that amazing and eye-opening year!“
“It’s a complete shame and I feel very sorry for prospective students who will miss out on the invaluable fourth year that myself and many others benefited from immensely. It’s a year in which you are able to fully explore, deepen, and develop your specialist skills in either directing, producing, dramaturgy etc. that will make you stand out amongst fellow students from other theatre courses when you graduate.”
“I am saddened to learn that the course I gave four years of my life and many thousands of pounds to is being stopped. I don’t know if it saddens me because of the experience I had there – if only for the fourth year specialism, which is the one year I really felt as if I learnt a great deal and was given the opportunity to develop and grow, creatively and intellectually. It was also the year which I felt genuinely benefited me in terms of career progression, particularly for the contacts – and friends – I made along the way. But I fear that, selfishly, one of the main reasons it saddens me is that it may diminish the value of my degree. I fear it will go from “oh you went to Kent, that’s quite good for drama isn’t it?” to “Kent? I never even knew they did a drama degree” in a matter of short years. I know, realistically, that this will not hamper my future job prospects; no one will probably even ask where I went to uni, nor have an opinion of it if I tell them. But I’d like to think that those four years of hard work has a lasting value outside of my own development at that time. After all, it cost me enough.”
“It seems we’re seeing the repercussions of our government’s attitude towards the arts. The sad thing is, at the current extortionate prices, even I’d think twice about taking the course, and that’s coming from someone who has benefited immensely from it. Remember when we voted in that guy who swore he’d not raise the fees and then he stabbed us all in the back? At least Cameron and Clegg listened to us we turned out in huge numbers to march on the capital to voice our disapproval. Oh well, so long as the government gets its way, what does it matter if the arts get swept to the side and young people lose faith in democracy.”
“It’s a crying shame. UKC offered a unique course that appealed to such a wide range of potential Drama Students. The chance to choose a specialism in the last year makes the course feel focused and personal. UKC will now join the countless other universities offering a generic Drama and Theatre Studies MA. How is it going to stand out from the crowd? And how are its future students going to stand out from the crowd? The four year course also offered another unique opportunity to it’s students. It kept then together for longer! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many strong theatre companies are formed at UKC. Would The Noise Next Door have started if we’d only had three years? Would Little Bulb? Would Spun Glass Theatre? Would Accidental Collective? Would Wide Eyed Theatre? Would we have all developed into the varied theatre makers we are without our final specialisms? What’s happening to Dr. Oliver Double? He’s the only Doctor of Comedy and a superb lecturer and inspiration. If UKC stop doing the final year stand-up specialism aren’t they wasting this unique asset? Ollie’s course has produced so many excellent comedians: Jimmy McGhie, Tiernan Douieb, Laura Lexx, two of Pappy’s, two of The Noise Next Door and many more besides. All these people are working in the industry that their final year trained them for! And for a drama degree that’s rare! It seems to me that in dropping the four year MDrama UKC are throwing away the thing that has made them and their students special.”
“As a graduate of the reputable MDrama & theatre studies degree at UKC, I’m really disappointed to hear of its discontinuation. Having the opportunity to gain further experience and to specialise in your area of choice is something that a BA simply doesn’t offer you. The specialism was, for myself and many of my peers, the stand out reason for applying to Kent, and it really set itself apart from competitor institutions. Admittedly, higher education faces more pressure than ever with the rise of fees and cuts in funding, but I feel giving into this pressure is a real disappointment for students, lecturers, alumni and of course prospective students.”
“It’s sad to learn of the end of pre-professional practice at UKC. As someone who partook in the programme, studying stand-up, I found the resources and almost one on one tuition astounding. To be able to specialise practically at a high level with accomplished tutors in arts is something of an enigma amongst many theory-heavy courses on offer today. In terms of employment, university allows you to present the best version of yourself. It’s not to say that specialist skills can’t be learnt on the job, but being able to do so in a safe and progressive learning environment was well worth the time, money and fun!”
“In a nutshell I think losing the MDrama would be losing a big part of why a lot of people choose Kent to do drama. The ability to specialise for a whole year in something you find genuinely interesting without incurring the costs and lack of funding for a full masters was a huge draw. Also it sent Kent apart, showed that for however long a time the department really cared about taking a standard drama course in a new individual direction, one personal to the student. Now it will fall into the category of ‘another uni that does a 3 year BA in drama’. It’s reflective that for whatever reason, drama at Kent is changing, it’s falling into line with everywhere else and perhaps may indicate that people involved in the course don’t care about it as much as others that preceded them did. Or maybe they just got less funding. What do I know? I’m just a drama graduate.”
I realise at this stage that there’s nothing we can do about the discontinuation of the MDrama course at Kent. Having said that, can we all agree that enough’s enough now? This has to stop. We cannot keep accepting the funding cuts and political decisions that are ruining our education system, particularly in the arts. I hate to think of future drama students missing out on the life-changing year of education that inspired me and so many others to work in the arts. Who knows what kind of side-splitting comedy or eye-opening theatre we will miss out on in future because the students who would have made it never discovered their passion?
I’m calling you out, David Cameron. You’ve got to stop spoiling stuff. If I were feeling particularly immature and petty, I might even tell you to do this.
Thanks for reading what turned out to be a pretty hefty piece. Have a beautiful Monday, and I promise that tomorrow’s blog will be much more cheerful (and shorter).