Thursday, 1 December 2016

December - Planning for a New Year

Next year I will definitely be transferring to a new institution and starting again on a taught PG course. I attended one open day a week or so back, and am planning to attend another in the new year. Both are within an hour of home, so hopefully I'll be a lot less isolated than I was with my previous institution. Unfortunately I am not eligible for the Postgraduate Loans as I already have an MA - even though it's a "professional one". It's slightly irritating because I was ineligible for most types of funding when I took my original MA because it was classed as professional, and now I'm ineligible for the academic funding because said original MA is now too academic... ARGH!

Bloody typical! *sigh*

So, in practice that just means I'll continue part time.

When looking to go back to another more-local university I shortlisted 10 south-eastern institutions plus one near where TGO works. I don't really want to head back up there BUT it is a good university and a cheaper area to live, so... I put my inner-Aspie to work and have worked out a ranking for each institution and course based on a number of criteria.

Stage one: Identification

Seven institutions in and around London, with 10 courses that align with my academic interests;
One institution with two courses near TGO
Three general South-East institutions with six courses aligning. Some other south-eastern region institutions were not short-listed at this point due to accessibility (I don't drive) or lack of relevant courses.

Stage 2: Ranking
  1. Course titles:
    • Plain History couses were ranked lower than one that was either specifically "medieval" or which was designed as a Historical Research degree as I felt those would be of greater benefit to my future studies.
  2. Course type:
    • MA = 2 points, vs MRes = 1 point. This was because I felt I will benefit from more support at this stage.
  3. Dissertation lengths:
    • These were simply ranked by length, with a longer dissertation gaining more points because it usually reflected a lesser number of optional modules.
    • A shorter dissertation but more modules I deemed equally beneficial as a longer dissertation with less optional modules, assuming suitable support within the department.
  4. Compulsory modules:
    • A specific "Research skills" module was ranked most highly, with thematic overview modules ranking second. Other compulsory modules weren't ranked as I see these as 'things that I must complete' in contrast to 'things I find most beneficial'. 
  5. Optional modules:
    • Optional modules were harder to rank, so I decided to award 2 points to any optional module that I felt would be directly relevant to any future research I undertake.
    • Subsequent optional modules which would be useful in developing technique, contextual awareness, and so on, were given 1 point each.
  6. Language support:
    • I want a university that at minimum offers support and training in medieval Latin. Other relevant languages are a bonus, especially Middle English. Therefore Latin support and tuition was given 2 points, other relevant languages got 1, and irrelevant languages (to me) weren't noted.
  7. Cost:
    • Cost is always relevant, like it or not. Despite being mostly interested in part-time study, I ranked on full-time fees in part because not all institutions provided clear part-time fees.
    • Costs were ranked inversely, meaning a £10k/per annum cost was 1 point, and a £1k per annum cost would be 10 points. I used decimals here because there is a lot of difference between a £5000/yr and a £5700/yr cost.
Following this I decided to add in some additional adjustments to rankings based on some extra criteria.
  1. Part-time:
    • Not all institutions were clear that they offered their courses with a part-time option. I ranked those which clearly stated the existence of any part-time options as +1.

      This fed into adjustment 2...
  2. Tuition times:
    • Offering part-time tuition is one thing, offering ACCESSIBLE part-time tuition is another thing entirely! Many institutions weren't clear on how their times would adjust to someone who needs to continue working, and were mostly adjusted to accommodate those who had more flexible outside demands.
    • For 5 points, I ranked most highly those who offered evening tuition (one institution)
    • For 3 points, I ranked second those who offered tuition adjusted to work patterns, e.g. on one day or on specific afternoons.
      • This bias comes from my MA LIS, where Monday had most/all compulsory modules and optional modules on a rotating basis (i.e. Year 1 had 50% available, with the other 50% available on that day during Year 2). This meant that our part-timers had everything accessible on a day-release basis.
      • If an employed person wants to take a course, it is easier to negotiate a specific work pattern with their employer (e.g. longer hours Tues - Fri, swapping Weds for Saturday, and so on) than needing 2 hours on Monday morning, and an early finish on Thursdays for Term 1, then Wednesdays in term 2, and so on.
    • Those institutions who didn't specify, or which had timetables showing classes all across the times and days were ranked 0 as they were unhelpful to me. Some of these courses might have actually been available as a 3-point option, but they were really not helpful!
    • Only two institutions got any points here. One who only offer evening tuition, and one who offer a "flexible study-pattern" option. That was depressing!
  3. Palaeography
    • One angle on my future research plans involves extensive palaeographical work. I therefore would prefer an institution that offers palaeographical training and support. Some institutions didn't offer a named Palaeography course, but did offer Manuscript Studies or Training, which I viewed as a lesser-but-still-good version of Palaeography.
    • Palaeography courses were ranked +2, Manuscript studies courses were ranked +1, and courses without either got +0.

Stage 3: Results

Surprisingly, the course nearest to TGO's work got the highest rank, despite me not wanting to live there again. That was definite food for thought. They do offer part-time, I know from talking to past students that they are willing to be quite flexible on attendance (caused by working) providing you complete the work. They are also based within walking distance of the office I would have to transfer to.

There were four institutions and five courses which scored 25 points or more on my scale. Maximum points would have been 30-35 points depending on how long an optimal dissertation would be. I'll call these institutions B, M, R and U

M scored 27.5, having the best compulsory options, and second best optional modules. It offers palaeography and 2 languages but doesn't have optimal part-time study timings. Its fees are high.

B scored 27.4. Its compulsory options were a bit mediocre but it currently has some great and good optional modules. It offers both palaeography AND manuscript studies, but only Latin. It offers awesome tuition times as all its relevant classes are in the early evening. Its fees are moderate.

R scored 25.4 for one course and 25 for another (a third scored 22.5). It has good compulsory courses and solidly interesting and relevant optional modules. R offers palaeography and Latin, but no other languages and has an innovative flexible option allowing you to spread your course over more than two years. I have no idea how that would work in practice, so I will need to visit them soon to discuss how it would pan out for me. The fees are the best of the top courses.

U scored 25.2. U has less compulsory modules overall, but makes up by having the best optional modules on offer allowing a more customised course. It only offers manuscript studies not palaeography but offers many relevant languages in addition to Latin. Its tuition times sucked, but there is a part-time option. The main negative for U was the extremely high tuition fees. Removing tuition fees from consideration (not possible in reality!) would bump it up above both courses at R.

U and B have an additional advantage in that they are part of a wider network of institutions which sometimes permit sharing of modules BUT that would always be dependant on tuition times for me.

In all cases it was assumed that the options as advertised now would be available when I took the course. This is never guaranteed, of course!

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