It’s hardly dreaming spires… mostly 1960s concrete. At this time of the year there are more squirrels around than people. The early-morning lectures will be the death of me, especially after the first night! And I can’t get my mobile phone to work anywhere on campus. But, all that aside, Keele University really is a marvellous place.
Set in 640 acres of rolling Staffordshire countryside, the university is home to 12,000 students of all ages. For years the university has been famous for its work in industrial relations and management theory (and no, the two are not mutually exclusive!). In the 1970s it had a very hard-left reputation, so much so that it was nicknamed ‘The Kremlin on the Hill,’ although only one or two of the politburo’s old guard remain. And among those 12,000 students and the two dozen or so studying Industrial Relations is me. Me… at Keele University!
How did I do it? All through my friendly neighbourhood trade union, of course! For those of you who don’t know, UNISON and the TUC run training courses for activists and reps like myself. It was while learning the ins and outs of being a rep in 2008 that I first realised that there was more to this union business than met the eye.
That autumn I went off to night school to study TUC History at the Manchester College. I loved every single minute of it. After History I moved on to Employment Law and although the course was very hard work I really enjoyed doing it. It was while doing the history course that I first got the idea that I could actually use all this learning to get back to university (having very irritatingly run out of money last time round in 1999). So I applied. And I got it. Which is why, on a perfect September morning, I found myself inside the bunker-like Darwin Building with six other students filling out forms and formally enrolling at the University.
The Certificate in Industrial Relations lasts for ten months. Aside from the three residential weekends at Keele, you receive two huge workbooks a term to read, and are given two assignments to do based on these. By the end of the course, if you reach the 40% pass mark, you are offered a place on the MA degree course. After the MA… well, that’s up to you.
Unfortunately, the course isn’t exactly free. The fees are £750, plus the £40-a-night accommodation on the residentials. Plus you have to get yourself down there (not exactly easy without a car). But if you apply before 30 June, 2011 there are UNISON bursaries of up to £1,000 that you can receive. As for qualifications, you don’t need any: just a willingness to learn. In fact, the course is aimed at those who’ve never done any higher or further education. That’s the whole point of it.
I’m the first one from our branch to do the Keele course. But it isn’t fair on the rest of you if I’m the only one who goes. So if anyone else fancies a go, or would like to know more, get in touch. If you’d like to visit, let me know and I’ll show you around. And if you want to apply, get your skates on so you qualify for that bursary!
Keele may be the first university course you’ve ever done but I promise you it won’t be the last. It certainly won’t be mine! In fact, I may put in for one of those PhD things next year, who knows?
Anthony Mullen (UNISON steward, Adult Social Care)