I started my Masters a few days ago and I’m finding it hard to accept my new position as a postgraduate. Only a few months ago postgraduates were above me in the academic hierarchy: as an undergraduate I mostly knew PhDs but even the Masters students I met were intelligent and cool twenty-somethings. How can I possibly be one of those people?
Being a postgraduate is different to being an undergraduate. As an undergraduate my classmates and I felt like cattle being shoved through the university’s byzantine system and paying for the privilege: we gave the university money, they gave us perfunctory levels of education and lecturers who treated us like a chore (not all lecturers), and then we were pushed out of the system with degrees. As a postgraduate I’ve been treated more like a human being eager to learn and better himself: I’ve been talked to, offered support, and asked to contribute to the department community. However there are a number of variables involved here so this isn’t a firm hypothesis: I’m at a different university doing a different course with a different faculty.
The treatment of undergraduates is largely due to the modern university structure. Universities are no longer viewed as elite centres of learning like Plato’s Academy – university is a default destination on the road that people are dragged along after college. Far too many people go to university. This is because of the Labour government’s bizarre insistence that 50% of school-leavers attend. With thousands of undergraduates buzzing around hallowed halls, tutors can’t make a connection with their students and don’t really respect them since the standards for university entry are so low. To deal with swelling numbers of students, universities have adopted a cold and clinical reliance on computers and integrated learning systems like WebCT/Blackboard for enrolment, registration, teaching material, and assessment. As more people gain Bachelor’s degrees, the degrees themselves become worth less and less.
Clearly I am developing a postgraduate resentment towards undergraduates – with their parties, their affected wackiness, their noisy Fresher’s Week festivities, and their leaflets that they hand out to everyone who walks past their damn Student’s Union. Apparently universities do lead to intellectual elitism.