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The Open University

Updated on February 19, 2011

MA in English

Fellow hubbers, I would like to share with you my little piece of exciting news. This week I have enrolled on the Open University's MA in English. I am going to be a proper student again, in just eight short months. I am so excited that I can barely contain myself.*

For those of you who may not have heard of the Open University, it is a well established institution (well, established since 1969) which runs the most excellent degrees primarily for distance learners. As such there is no campus (apart from a small one that is used for one or two research degrees), no lectures, no football team, no May Ball, no local pubs frequented by fellow students. In short, no distractions, such as the kind I experienced when I attended the university the first time around in my late teens and early twenties. (I have just received a copy of my transcript for my first degree, and my goodness, was I distracted. My marks were appalling, and I'm ashamed of them.)

I am older now, more mature (marginally), more committed (very much so), more confident (obviously, look at me puffing myself up right here). The Open University is perfect for people like me, people who can't just move to a different city to study, who have families to look after, and various commitments that cannot be simply dropped, people who need their studies to slot into the spare hours in the evenings, and who are ready to work hard because they want to, not just because they feel they're supposed to. (And one of the really big pluses, is that there are no entry requirements - lucky for me, because that transcript would ensure I was barred from postgraduate study at every other institution in the UK, I'm sure of it!)

I have done OU courses in the past, just for fun. The OU is excellent at distance learning, because that is precisely what it was set up for. Students receive splendid parcels in the mail before the courses begin, containing text books, excercises, DVDs and CDs with recordings by the tutors and DVD-ROM applications for the science courses, and lists of supporting television programmes and their air times. Students work through the text books, attempting exercises along the way, and working toward the numerous TMAs (Tutor Marked Assignments). It may seem, on the surface, to be very prescriptive, but in practice it is not. Students are provided with as much information as they need to complete the TMAs, but are also encouraged to undertake their own research and think of their own ideas. The OU provides the basics, the students can do as much or as little as they like with them.

With the OU, many courses also offer weekly or fortnightly seminars with a personal tutor. These can be invaluable. I won't pretend that OU study isn't isolating at times: it is. But this is no doubt the main reason for the tutorials. Talking to fellow students about the course material has that comforting effect of allowing each to know that they are thinking along the right lines on a particular topic, or that they are not alone in finding another area particularly difficult to understand. And there is some sense of community there, though not as strong as any other university where students will live and work together for a full three years. With the OU those friendships formed will be less intense, and based more on the academic than the social - quite the reverse of how it all works at a campus university.

Summer schools are also offered, but I have not completed one of those yet. I would imagine them to be excellent, and I hope to have the chance to do one.

It took me a while to decide which MA to choose. I had intended to apply to the university in my town (a very good university, Lancaster University) to do an MA in Creative Writing. But then I spotted this OU degree in English. I was torn for a while. Creative Writing seemed to be the obvious choice, for a would-be writer. My choice seemed made for me since the OU do not, at present, offer a Masters in Creative Writing. But then I began to think. Lancaster University MAs by distance learning. Mmm. An Ma that is run chiefly in online forums. Mmm. An MA that relies heavily on the criticism of other students, with minimal input from the tutors. This made me wonder whether the MA would be worth the not inconsiderable amount of money that I would be paying. What would I actually be paying for? Was the MA just a money making scheme for the tiny department? Perhaps, perhaps not. But I just had a feeling that if I chose it I would be making a mistake (assuming I could get a place, and that would be assuming a lot, now that I've seen that transcript)

So I looked again at the MA in English. Well-supported, well-organised, well-established, well-recommended. And I have always held the belief that we learn the most from looking at what has gone before. History is of paramount importance to me, so I cannot really think of a better way to learn about writing than to study the work of excellent writers. I will learn from my forebears.

Of course, there is a lot to be said for original thinking and moving forward, of course. But you have to learn the rules before you can break them, so some say. You may well see things differently, and that is fine - you and I are not the same writer. Good. We would certainly not want to all be the same.

I have looked at my reading list, and I am itching to get started. I have one or two of the books already, so have only about three-quarters of the list to find. Studying is something I could happily do for the rest of my life. I wish I had realised that when I did my first degree. And hey, even if I don't do well, I have a splendid excuse to read, read, read for two whole years.

Go out and find something new and exciting to do; it does wonders for a person's state of mind, I can tell you. I could dance in the street, I am so happy (except that it's raining right now, and I don't want to make my hair frizzy).

* It's difficult to convey excitement without the use of exclamation marks, or the appropriate emoticons. But I vowed to use as few as possible when I once read an article that said a good writer should never need them. (Here is a little secret for you: I usually put in lots of exclamation marks, but go through and edit them all out before I hit the publish button. Well, who wants to be seen to be shouting all the time?)


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