We deserve more choice around modules

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Picking the right degree for you is only half the problem of your university journey. Picking modules you want to specialise in is something else altogether. By now, all Part II students will be stuck with whatever modules they’re studying – compulsory or otherwise – based on a choice made months before any module details were fully finalised. For most people, the choice is daunting. How can you possibly know whether you will enjoy studying a particular module if it’s a completely new topic? Whilst this is something that we all have to face up to alone, the University isn’t necessarily making things easier for us.

The first problem that always comes up for second years going into their final year is that joint honours students are either not allowed to do a dissertation, or are severely restricted in their dissertation subject. As a joint honours student in English Literature and Creative Writing, I’m one of the annoying few whose degree lies within the same department and so the choice of doing a dissertation or not was entirely left to me. For others, however, this was not the case. A friend studying English Literature and Religious Studies was initially told that her dissertation could only be in Religious Studies, whilst my flatmate, who is studying Biology and Geography, has no choice but to do a Biology dissertation.

The reasoning behind such restrictions – or so rumour had it – was that joint honours students weren’t “dedicated” enough to do a dissertation in one particular subject area. Of course, this is absolute nonsense, and the English Literature department duly relented concerning joint honours students (albeit rather late in the process) for the first time. This, however, is only half the story. For English Literature students, third year brings the option of doing specialised half modules, taught by a tutor who designs the module around their own research area and interests. The catch? Only if you’re a single honours student or doing English Literature and Creative Writing.

Yet even if you’re “dedicated” enough to be worthy of half modules, the restrictions don’t end there. Timetabling often means that half modules only run in particular terms, meaning that two modules you want to study may be run in the same term. This would be fine in itself – if, of course, we were made aware of which modules were running in which terms before enrolment day. It’s difficult to talk of other departments across the University when I don’t have personal experience of them, but judging from my friends’ experiences they weren’t nearly as problematic. It was almost like a game – guess which modules are running in which term, only to discover on the day that all of the modules you’re interested in are in Michaelmas term, what a laugh! Or rather, how ridiculous it is that no-one is given finalised information before enrolling on modules that they probably won’t be allowed to change because of class sizes and timetabling issues.

There are all sorts of nuanced restrictions that students are not made aware of and are expected to be able to adapt to on a whim when it comes to picking modules. A friend said that she was unable to do the modules she was interested in for her course because it meant that too much of her degree would be made up of coursework – a rule which I have never heard before and, so far as I know, wasn’t made clear to students doing that particular degree. Given that most students go into university life with an expectation that they will be able to specialise in their subject area, degrees become peculiarly complicated and restricted depending on what the make-up of your subject is. Unfortunately for most, this often means that you’ll probably study at least one duff module during Part II (I certainly didn’t count on doing Shakespeare for a year when I came to Lancaster).

The only saving grace is that the people in charge of enrolment decisions are, I think, gradually listening to students. Joint honours students can now do dissertations in English Literature, and new modules are coming into force to cater for student wishes. How long it will take before manoeuvrability on changing modules or enrolling for half modules, however, is another kettle of fish altogether.

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