It’s been six years since I graduated from University. As I reminisce on this milestone, navigating College and University Life independently, as a disabled student, was tricky. The British education system is quite competitive compared to Bermuda. Essex and London was my original goal and preference but it didn’t work out. Therefore, Bradford became my stomping ground.
My High School G.P.A wasn’t good enough to go straight to University, so after I moved to England I went to College first then University. I never completed G.C.S.E’s. I attempted A Levels but failed. This can be discouraging for an Audio-visual Learner.
As soon as I got here, the Bradford College International Office insisted on meeting me just to make sure that this was something I wanted to do. They expressed concerns about me getting homesick. They seemed more nervous than me.
Before I officially pursued Higher Education, the Bradford College told me that I needed an electric wheelchair because Bradford is very hilly. I was also notified that if I wished to receive any help from Learning Support, I would have to pay for it, because I was seen as an International Student and not a Home Student. Later on I found out that this wasn’t true and I was able to receive Learning Support without the extra charge.
While advocating for myself, I felt that I was talking a lot more to get what I needed. I tried not to be vocal and vulgar, but it was frustrating. This didn’t help with my organisational skills either. After the first four months I wanted to quit, but my parents wouldn’t let me.
By January, the head of A Levels Department and head of Learning Support met with me to discuss and express concerns about my academic progress within the first four months. They predicted that I would fail the course before the year was out. A Levels required loads of self study and unstructured study skills. I even got personal online tutorials in addition to College lectures.
A Level Lecturers were allowed to pick, choose and refuse to put students forward for a mock or final exam, regardless of academic progress and results.
Exams were answered in essay format and not one line answers. For A-Levels, answers were marked based on quantity. They did word and line count. University lecturers didn’t do that.
However, my degree was heavily coursework based and essays were marked based on quality of answer. They were also written in essay format and not one line answers. Spelling, grammar and punctuation also contributed to your exam results.
Learning support provided specialist equipment, extra exam time, essay structuring and preparation, as well as exam scribes or lecture scribes.
I found referencing and bibliographies confusing at times, especially when writing my dissertation. In University, I had to use the Harvard Referencing System for essays and the Numeric Referencing System showing footnotes for my dissertation.
To make matters worse, referencing a book is different to referencing an e-book and the list goes on. Then I submitted my coursework through Turnitin, a plagiarism detector. If Turnitin processed your coursework and found 50% of it was copied from other sources and not written in your own words, then you automatically failed without the teacher marking it.
Freshers Fair vs. Student Orientation
In the UK, the first couple of weeks of university are referred to as “freshers week” or “welcome week”. This is because the first-year students are fresh to the university. It’s a great time to make new friends, get started on your classes, join clubs and societies and find your way around your campus and local area. Most universities start freshers week around the end of September when the students arrive for the new academic year.
Some universities may have two weeks of “freshers” and so may start a little earlier in the middle of September. Throughout the week (or two) your university will offer activities, meet and greets, and other events to allow students to socialise and get to know their university. This is also the time when students can sign up to the local health centre, register for their library card and apply for their student cards.
Halls of residence will host events to help you settle into your living space and meet other students living in the building. The local off-campus restaurants, pubs and nightclubs often offer discounts, deals and themed nights to help students settle into the area.
Even though Bermuda doesn’t have Universities, the rest of the school system provides Student Orientation at the beginning of the year. I feel that Student Orientation in Bermuda’s schools actually prepared you for your course. England, on the other hand, gives you a list of school supplies needed for each subject and then you are left to figure it out on your own.
Student Finance and Benefits
I feel that students who claim disability are well funded. This helped me, especially since I chose not to work while studying. You can apply for:
Disabled Student’s Allowance
Disabled Living Allowance
This also makes things a little easier while living independently, studying, managing my health and finding the time to have a social life. All of these experiences taught me to believe in myself, encourage myself and not give up even when it seemed like the lecturers doubted me. Even though navigating the education system was tricky, I am proud of myself for pursuing and persevering.