Monday, 20 May 2013

Economics at the University of Birmingham

My first year at the University of Birmingham came to an end last Friday. I finished my last exam at half past 11 and now I have an overwhelming feeling of freedom. Too much so, perhaps. I have nothing to do, hence why I'm here. I wanted to give my opinion on the University of Birmingham, and the economics course they offer. I'm going to try to be honest, but of course I have the potential to be bias so feel free to ignore every word I say. There will be a few words of advice towards the end.

I'll start by saying that I've loved my first year at University. It's been great. I've enjoyed pretty much all of it - but it did fly by, unfortunately. It seems only yesterday I was moving my stuff in and saying goodbye to friends from home. If I had to quantify my first year studying economics at the University of Birmingham it would be a solid 8 out of 10 (I believe that nothing is perfect, so an 8 is pretty damn good coming from me).

'Old Joe'

As far as the University as a whole goes, there are plenty of positives. The campus is talked about a lot - it's a beautiful campus, centring around the main attraction 'Old Joe', and it doesn't get that reputation for no reason. It even looks good in the rain. It almost makes you want to walk on to campus for your 9 o'clock lecture! Understandably, having a nice environment around you for your 3 years+ of studying is important - it really does help. The transport links are also a massive benefit. Having an on-campus train station that can take you to Birmingham New Street in 10 minutes is invaluable. It makes the trip home/back to university for holidays so much easier and less stressful, as well as giving you easy access to a great city in your free time. I'd recommend getting a 16-25 railcard if you plan on using the station a lot, the railcard makes a return journey into New Street only £1.40 and you can also use it to get a third off trains home. Perfect. Amenities on campus are also pretty awesome. I love my coffee, so being able to pick up a Starbucks or a Costa in the middle of campus is great. The queues aren't even that big as you might expect, and it's normal pricing. There's also the farmers market for all of your fresh fruit and vegetables which is a neat touch.

The walk to campus during the snow

Everything of course isn't perfect, there are some downsides which I'll even admit to. Firstly, although this depends on what sort of person you are, the accommodation leaves a fair bit to be desired. Although I can only speak for the halls I live in, I assume it's a similar story for the others. For what you're paying you may expect a lot more. I've paid over £4,000 a year for my room and with that I get a flat with one shower, two toilets and a kitchen that I'm sharing with 4 others. The rooms are averagely sized. The biggest problem is from above. The management seem very unwilling to put any effort into helping out students. I met with my halls manager twice about issues in my flat that were affecting me and my flatmate and she virtually laughed us out the door - not ideal, but if you have thick skin you probably won't meet many problems. The maintenance service is also pretty slow - expect at least a 2 day delay when it comes to fixing broken things in your flat. We had to cook for a week using torchlight because our kitchen light broke and essentially bath in the shower because of a blocked drain. Another slight issue is location for decent food shopping. If you're a food delivery sort of person then ignore this, but if you're like me and you actually like going to the shop and picking out your own things then there's a slight problem. You get an Aldi, a Sainsbury's, a Tesco and a Morrisons nearby, but all are about a twenty minute walk. This of course limits the amount of stuff you can actually buy to the amount you can carry in bags, meaning you may have to go a few times a week - which can be a bit of a pain.

The course itself was very good. I went with straight economics, but there was plenty of scope to vary that a bit - maybe put in a language, or go down a more mathematical route. I liked the fact I could cater my degree to my own preferences, despite still sticking with pure economics. There's a good balance of modules in first year: a few maths-y ones, some pure economics and then more applied and specific modules which give you a good introduction to the whole subject and assist you when it comes to picking modules in the second year. On that note, for the second year you get to choose 6 out of the 12 modules you will study - so there is a lot of freedom for you to make your degree as appropriate to you and your aspirations as possible. The teaching quality is as good as I expected - I do feel I've learnt a lot in this first year, despite it of course not really counting for anything. The office hours of lecturers are always available if you're having any issues with the work and they're more than happy to help you over e-mail in the hours when their office isn't open. One of the big debates nowadays is how the university are spending our £9000 tuition fees - but I think the economics department is doing it well. We get all lecture slides printed out for us, which is good when it comes to note-taking and the revision period. We also get a personal tutor that we can see with any issues and an economics office staffed with friendly people who are always willing to help. I'd say that money was well spent relative to other departments in the university.  

One little fault I had with the course was that one of the modules was made up of 50% business studies. I mean, no disrespect to business studies students, but that wasn't really the sort of stuff I wanted to be learning on my economics degree. It's not very relevant to me and thus I found it frustrating. Especially when it came to revising for the exam, I couldn't focus or concentrate on learning the material because it just didn't interest me. Although the boundaries between economics and business studies can be blurred at times, this module definitely took a step over which I wasn't best pleased with. My second problem is the library. This is probably an issue in all other universities at exam time, but I noticed it was particularly difficult to even get a space during April and May, let alone get a computer. The solution would be to get up at 8 am and get in there before the crowd, but that isn't always ideal. I toyed with taking my laptop down there to use, but found the Wi-Fi to be infuriatingly unreliable and I had to just stay at my flat to revise. There could be an improvement in this area. However, the next big investment from the university is a re-housing of the library so that could solve the issues.

My 'average' sized bedroom

I'd like to conclude by saying that Birmingham is a great place to study. It's an awesome city, everything you need is right on your doorstep and the University is fantastic. It's highly rated and will take you places in life. I do have some tips for you, though. First, try hard in your first year. Many people will tell you that the first year is a doss and 40% is all you need to continue to second year. Yes, that's true, but 40% doesn't look great on the CV, and if you have real aspiration you're going to want to be doing internships during the Summer of second year. A 2:1 minimum in first year is needed to do these internships, and that will take some commitment and some work. My second piece of advice is to dive in to everything. So many opportunities will present themselves in such a short space of time. Try as much as you can and get involved in everything that takes your fancy. If it means little sleep, so be it - you won't look back and remember the nights where you got plenty of sleep. "C.V, C.V, C.V" will be hammered into you for the first few weeks, and the only way to make yours look good is to do stuff, get involved and experience things. Good luck in your ventures, and I'll potentially see you at Birmingham next year. Laters.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks Sam, this has been really helpful! I was really interested in Birmingham and reading this has now confirmed my excitement for the University :)