Education expedition 1


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I arrived in London on the 2nd June. We were quickly whisked away to Antoinette Hotel right next to Kingston University. Kingston is a quaint little place with cosy little houses. Lots of roses growing in everyone’s yard. The weather was perfect unlike the many predictions of rains. In fact it seems we got along a little sunshine here because it was after quite a gap that the rains had stopped. After freshening up, we went to see the Graduate fashion week at Central london. On this particular day, the show was put up by the students of the Fashion department at Kingston university. (More on that in the next post).

Nelson Mandela Said “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”. How true are those words!

Right from day one, My colleague (a journalist) & I were taken to various departments at Kingston university, to get a taste of what all courses they have to offer. I must say that each and every department is highly specialised in its field with the latest machines, facilities & techniques to impart knowledge. We also saw the outcome of such knowledge at various places, especially the arts & design show put up by various sub departments of the art & design faculty. It was really interesting to say the least.

On day one, we met Fiona Curran, Senior Lecturer, School of Performance & Screen, to talk about the Performance, Screen & Film Making courses. Accompanying her were two Indian students as well. Both of them were quite confident about their prospects after the course completion. We were told  by them that making a movie without a sponsor is no mean feat, not to forget the difficulties faced as a female film maker, but they had ample help from the film making student community itself. It is a perfectly balanced ecosystem where everyone helps each other promptly knowing that one day they would be asking for help as well.

This was followed by a meeting with Shabana Ansari, an Indian student doing MA in creative writing. She told us that all courses are paired with another course which is more vocational in nature and can help students get a job till the time their primary occupation doesn’t get them started on a regular income. That is a very good strategy especially as far as the “subjective” skills like writing, film making, design etc go. Shabana has just come out with a book published by her as part of her curriculum and the pride was evident on her face.

After lunch, we went to a different campus of Kingston university (various departments are housed in the vicinity and some are a little distance away as well). This particular department was dedicated to Art & Design courses & facilities. We met Jake Abrams, Principal Lecturer in Illustration & Animation, who gave us a tour of the Art and Design studios and workshop facilities. The entire building was one large beehive of creativity. Various courses like Photography, Fashion, Architecture, Fine art, Graphic design, Illustration & Animation, Interior design, Product and furniture design, etc are offered here. Unlike the other campus, this whole department looked like one giant art installation. There was a show called the “moving image” going on, where all the departments had put up the creme de la creme works of each department. It was really amazing. It is not only interesting to see a new person’s perspective on something old, it is interesting to note the difference that new culture brings on Art. One example of an art installation is

It reminds me of childhood!

And a glimpse of the photography exhibition.

The next day, we met Professor Julius Weinberg, Vice Chancellor, Kingston University – who is ALSO doing an undergraduate course at Kingston university himself! Due to this fact, he knows the ins and outs of all situations faced by students. He told us quite a few interesting achievements of Students from KU. For eg. Kingston produces the most graduate startup companies in UK. Facebook – yes THE facebook invited product & furniture design students of KU to furnish their conference space with prototypes & they liked the pieces so much that they made them permanent. The illustration & animation students have received worldwide acclaim by being featured in the “creative review”. Photography grad student’s work was acquired by Tate gallery. There are so many accolades & achievements that they can’t be listed here. But one thing is apparent for sure. The students get a global platform to stand out on and they made full use of it.  He was also interviewed by my journalist colleague. The interview can be read here.

This was followed by a showcase of MBA, business courses and tour of Business School. Again this was a separate campus and a very green one at that. We met Kent Springdal – Senior Lecturer, Department of Strategy, Marketing & Innovation and more Indian students again. They were all very confident and had already started working on their startups. Most had prior work experience as well. Needless to say, this department seemed to provide them the perfect skills that all entrepreneurs need. They are all guided by dedicated mentors who are with them throughout the process. It’s a very good way of landing a job before the student visa expires!

We also met Dwain Reid – Entrepreneurship Project Officer whose main job is to assist budding entrepreneurs of KU. There are courses like the Enterprise programme that help students learn right from the basics of how to register as self employed to the toughies like Intellectual property protection, applying for funding, cashflow, PR, social media etc. The course can be attended by students of sister universities of KU as well. All in all it’s a very good bootcamp for all those who dream big.

On the final day we visited the Science, Engineering & Computing department & met Dr. Steve Barton who showed us around the campus. Needless to say, the faculty was very well equipped with all kinds of machines & devices – be it bio-medical or chemical. It was freaky seeing very large electromagnets and huge tanks full of liquid nitrogen for cryogenics etc! We also visited various labs & saw the students working on preciser than precise machinery to ascertain things that are eventually life altering. A very popular picture from the science department is this picture of lockers depicting the periodic table!

As part of the final touch, we did one of the most interesting things ever. We did a Tour of Forensics House including a crime scene! Well, the crime scene had been “fixed” for us, as is done for students of the forensics department. But it was really exciting as expected. Accompanying us was Tracy Davies, Senior Technician, Faculty of Science, Engineering & Computing. The forensics department at KU has a forensics house where they use animal entrails, real (animal) blood and a lot of other stuff to depict a crime scene. The students have to be “on job” complete in the required suits, collecting evidence etc. The crime scene set up for us wasn’t as gory thankfully. It had a toppled chair, a knife strewn about, strands of hair, half filled beer glasses and a tiny blood spatter to show trickle from weapon or trickle from finger. Here’s an example

 We guessed a couple of things based on the clues and felt really suave as if we were starring in CSI. However, those who do this in real life have a huge responsibility on their shoulders! Not to forget seeing so much graphic detail in the job, must be tough mentally as well. Sadly, We missed out on the lie detector test that had been planned for us earlier.

We also had interaction with the teams that prepare the students to get placements as well as the ones that help the students with their visa paper work right from pre-arrival days, till the final placement days. The work permit after graduation is THE number one issue all Non-EU students face. But the good news is that it’s not all that difficult if the job application process is done systematically in advance. Typically students have 3 months after graduation (down from 2 years limit earlier) but many land jobs before that.  Many students end up in unskilled jobs (eg. as waiters) just to support maintenance costs & the grad degree clearly doesn’t add anything in these cases. Understandably it can get difficult with a new culture, geography, environment etc as add on factors, but this sort of a thing is frowned upon and students are encouraged to plan their job applications in advance. All the student entrepreneurs, who don’t land jobs, also have an opportunity to get a Tier 1 entrepreneur visa given by KU to 15 deserving students each year. KU has the International student advisory centre set up specifically for helping out in these immigration and work permit issues.

Overall, the little slice of life that we saw at Kingston university was very enriching. I am sure the students here get world class education and seeing the track record of the univ, their students also get placed rather well. As someone said, Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. Even for us, non-students, it was a very enlightening experience.

Up next – the fun stuff at KU!

(this is the 2nd post in a 3 part series. Click here for the first part)


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