News Column

Your guide to Clearing 2014: Good things come in small packages: Consider a specialist institution if big groups of people aren't your thing, says Richard Doughty

August 14, 2014

Richard Doughty



Moving from school or college, where you know everyone, to a massive campus-style university thronging with thousands of students can be daunting. But there are alternatives. Much smaller HE institutions, often affiliated to larger universities, maintain a community-style atmosphere where students are in their hundreds rather than thousands, you actually get to know your lecturers and tutors, and many friendships made there can last a lifetime.

The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (Lipa), for example, linked with Liverpool John Moores University, currently has just 680 students, a small student bar facility, and is based in a multimillion pound conversion of co-founder Sir Paul McCartney's former school. It's down to you to make friends, join activities, and play/study hard to get the most out of university life.

At Lipa, like many other specialist HE institutions, everybody knows you says John Reynolds, a lecturer in music, theatre and entertainment management. "Staff and students - they know you and they know all of your business. There's no secrets at Lipa," he says. "But on the plus side, everyone is supportive of each other."

The Royal Northern College of Music, affiliated to the University of Manchester, runs along similar lines with some 700 students from around 50 countries and 450 staff (many of them part-time). Based in the centre of Manchester, it doubles as a performance venue offering world-class facilities and, unlike many smaller institutions, guarantees all first-years accommodation in a hall of residence next door.

Writtle college's area of expertise is a little broader - it specialises in land-based courses (such as agriculture and horticulture), plus design and sport courses. Partnered with Essex University, it currently has 861 undergraduates (plus lots of FE students) spread across 14 halls of residence on its 220-acre campus and won the 2013 NUS "Best small and specialist students' union" award.

At the top end of the smaller institution scale is Cornwall's Falmouth University, with 3,500 students -still very small by current university standards. Split into two campuses at Penryn and Falmouth, it gained university status in 2012 and specialises in arts and vocational subjects, including media courses, stemming from its origins as the Falmouth School of Art, founded in 2002.

Before Lipa students even arrive, they are encouraged to sign up to its various social media pages and get chatting to fellow students. In fact, the smaller the institution the more willing students need to be "to get stuck in" socially. "It's all about networking," says Ruth Meekings (23), a 2013 Lipa graduate in music, theatre and entertainment management.

And the more specialised the institution, the greater the likelihood of being taught by practising industry experts. Whether your hearing from farming specialists at Writtle, composers in Manchester or even Sir Paul McCartney and Billy Ocean at Liverpool, the student experience at a small institution is uniquely intimate.

Captions:

Theatre and entertainment management students at Lipa



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Source: Guardian (UK)


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