Let’s take a look at the things in Edinburgh that I now have a newfound appreciation for. The ludicrous beaurocracy means I’ll never criticise Registry ever again, I’ll never complain when MyEd goes down because to use the computers here you need to matriculate which takes a long time, go through a big process online to register, and then when you do get onto the computers, they’re still running Windows 98 (that’s 10 years behind, people!) and the system’s so fiddly it’s unbelievable. To print things out you have to put it on a pen drive and take it to the Reprography, which is basically a copy shop, where there’ll undoubtedly be a queue and if you go between 2 and 4 it’ll be closed. Unfortunately my classes finish every day at 2.30 (as well as the majority of students) so it’s closed when I need to use it.
Here’s a third one; student politics. It doesn’t exist here, at all. The student’s union doesn’t do anything, just a few vaguely academic things that seem to coincide with what the uni wants. The university runs the cafeterias, there’s no union building or even an office as far as I know, the student newspaper is run by the university and as far as I can tell doesn’t even have student contributors, and there is nothing vaguely controversial within a mile radius of uni! A few posters went up last week to inform everyone that the student representative elections were coming up. The candidates got annouced on Thursday. No idea where, I’ve not seen anything. The vote takes place in class, since they’re faculty-based elections, but it seems to be just a class rep system which is only a miniscule part of student representation in Edinburgh.
Meanwhile, even when I’m in a different country, I still know that the General Meeting is coming up (if you’re in Edinburgh, GO). I know what motions are being presented, I’ve even contributed to a campaign against one of them. I can still present articles to the student newspaper and I know that every day people are making use of EUSA’s services, and that there’s always something going on on campus, and almost everyone is a member of at least one society. Those don’t exist here.
So how did this dire situation come about here? I think there are 2 main causes. First of all, the faculties are more or less segregated from each other. I study literature and language, which means I’m in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. That has its own building, just like every other faculty, where only people studying in that faculty have classes. Each faculty has its own cafeteria, its own library, and the only time you meet people not studying something similar to you is when you’re on the bus. Given this, it’s hardly surprising that a centralised union isn’t really seen as necessary, everything that concerns you is within this one building. The general library looks really small from outside and I don’t think it gets used much, so even that’s not an issue that affects all students much.
Secondly, more or less every student here is from Malaga. They frequently still live with their parents, they still have all the same friends from school. So there’s no need for societies at uni, they don’t need to meet new people, and thus there’s less for a student union to get involved with.
There are, however, two issues that students are concerned about here. The first one is called the pilot programme. This is just the University of Malaga, which is changing the structure of the degree programmes a bit. I’m in the interesting position of having some courses in second year, the first year of the new system, and some courses in third year which is the last year of the old system, and there are problems on both sides. The second years are coming out with a different type of degree than the third years, which both sides seem to think is unfair since they’re essentially doing the same thing. Those in third year who need to resit the year (something that’s quite common here, apparently), will be told that they can still take their exams, but that the teaching will not be provided, because many courses have been cut from the new programme. Their other choice is to take courses that haven’t been cut, but they don’t tend to fit into the timetable so well. I think this is disgraceful, the university has made a contract with these students by taking them on and yet they’re not providing the programme they signed up for. Of course there’s no union, so conversations about this tends to be in the form of venting onto a friendly teacher who really can’t do anything.
The other thing is national, and it’s called Bolonia. This is a policy of the PSOE government, really unpopular in this part of Spain, which is designed to bring Spanish universities into alignment with the rest of Europe with regards to the credit system and all this. It’s tied to the pilot programme detailed above. Unfortunately for Erasmus students, this has made us a little unpopular. Not explicitly so, but you can tell there’s a little resentment. There have been reports written in the student press along the lines of “Do Erasmus students actually learn any Spanish?” (the answer is apparently no, I wonder why people studying languages so frequently get sent on exchanges…), and about how exchange students know nothing about Spanish culture, not even the name of some Spanish bands. To prove the point, there were interviews with 4 Erasmus students who (in perfect Spanish I might add) said they didn’t know any Spanish bands. I know one of these students and she said it’s not at all what she said in the interview. But I know the unpopularity of Bolonia isn’t the only reason for this. The University receives twice the number of exchange students that it sends. Some classes are half Erasmus, and in some of the courses the exams are easier for them to make up for the language barrier. No wonder they’re annoyed, it’s as if their uni’s been taken away from them!
Anyway this turned out to be really long and probably not very interesting. In other news, I only realised it was mid-November this week when they started putting up the Christmas decorations in the streets. It was a bit strange because as they were hanging up the lights, there was a deep blue sky in the background. It’s still over 20 degrees outside, the evening sun is beaming warmly against the terracotta walls outside my window, and life is good.