Observations on Higher Learning in Scotland

Before I came to Scotland, I was under the impression that Universities operated essentially the same way, regardless what country you happen to be located in. This, I have since found out, is not the case. The University of Glasgow is very different from U of T, and not just because it’s about three times as old. Five weeks in and I think I’ve learned enough to create a pretty good crash course in how to survive University: UK style.


[Get used to the fact that you will be taking classes in rooms three times as old as your home country!]
Do your prep work!
The Socratic Method is alive and well here in Scotland. (If you’ve never heard of the Socratic method, watch The Paper Chase.) Before every class readings and questions are assigned and the professors expect you to be prepared. By this I don’t mean skimming the article two hours before the class and showing up to lecture ready to have the topic explained to you. An unnamed student who may or may not be the author of this post foolishly didn’t read the last article assigned for Advanced International Law this week… bad decision! Here, when you show up to class expect to be asked questions and to defend an opinion. The professors here assume you already know the content, as far as they’re concerned, their job is to facilitate discussion of the content.

So, now that the Socratic method has scared you into thinking “Oh no! I didn’t do all the readings this week! I don’t want to be shamed again in front of my peers! I guess I’ll just skip that class…” I hate to break it to you, you can’t, because…

Attendance, it’s mandatory
In Scotland, attendance is mandatory, even if there is no participation mark. At first I was a bit taken aback by this. In North America it’s up to me how I want to learn the content! If I want to pay x number of dollars to just learn it in my room and just show up to the exam, why can’t I? But then it dawned on me… No one else here is paying x number of dollars. University here is free (!!!!) for Scottish students. So, I suspect the requirement of attendance is the university’s way of  making sure the system isn’t abused by someone not serious about their studies.

Glasgow City-20130920-00074

Plus, once you get used to the teaching style, you’ll want to be there every week because…

Studying Law doesn’t exactly mean the same thing over here
It may be called a law class, but that doesn’t mean you’re actually going to be studying any law. Subjects are a lot less compartmentalized than in North America, which is really cool! The aforementioned Advanced International Law Class includes topics on politics, economics, philosophy… as well as some law. This seems to be especially true of the upper year classes which really focus on broad concepts and theories rather than black-letter law. Bonus: With all the politics added to my classes I’ll be able to discuss the Euro Crisis at smart parties without sounding like a complete idiot. Thank you, Glasgow.

Reconsider your wardrobe
It is embarrassing to admit, but my sweatpants and Uggs Thursday uniform was not well received over here in Glasgow. Rule of thumb: Wear what you would for a night out on the town in Toronto, put on panty hose, throw a scarf over anything low cut and it’s appropriate for class. [This of course makes going for a night out in Glasgow that much harder… think cocktail dresses, blow outs, and a lot of eye make up]. Honestly… I still haven’t got this one down. That, more than everything else is what sets me apart from the locals (well… other than the accent and inability to count the British coins properly).

Student Unions, they’re where it’s at!
I had never even heard of a Student Union (at least, in the type that I am talking about) until I got here. Student unions at the University of Glasgow are like fraternities, except anyone can join and you don’t have to pay them any money or run around in a funny costume to show how much you want to be a member. They are a cross between a cafeteria, social club, bar, gym, library, event venue and student government. Pretty much all the clubs at the university are affiliated with one of the Unions and that is where all the major social events are held.

So there you go! With these tips in mind you’ll be a pro at navigating UK University in no time!

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