The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media
Image courtesy of Josh West
That was my reaction and the reaction of countless other students on 11 May 2018 when I picked up a copy of InQuire to find the University of Kent had dropped nineteen places from 25th to 44th in the Complete University Guide rankings. This already nonsensical position got worse, dropping again to 49th this year. The Guardian appears even more draconian in its rankings, dropping us a whole thirty places from 35th last year to 65th this year. SIXTY FIFTH! I do not quite know if the examiners, investigators or whoever the hell these people employ to degrade seats of learning went to the same university as us. If they had they certainly would not rank us sixty fifth.
When I arrived at Kent in 2016, it was 16th in the country, above such institutions as Birmingham, UEA, and Edinburgh. I disregarded the small slip to 23rd during my first year, taking it as a natural occurrence of a constantly shifting league table. But the sudden drops in my second and third years caused me to look back and ask, over the past three years, what has changed? The answer: very little. For me, this University is still as good as it was when I first got here. We are still in the top ten in the UK for American Studies, Forensic Science, Italian, Linguistics and Marketing. Naturally, it must fall to me to reassert our Top 20 ranking within English higher education.
“Consistently outstanding teaching, learning and outcomes”. These were the words that the Teaching Excellence Framework (TES) used to describe teaching at Kent when they rated us Gold, one of only 29 universities to earn such an accolade. When they are not striking (for perfectly honourable reasons no doubt) Kent’s lecturers and staff are the perfect mixes of Oxbridge professionalism and expertise, and secondary school supportiveness and understanding; masters of their fields but without the additional ego. Do not doubt it, our lecturers are some of the most notable minds in their subjects. In the School of History we have Prof. Kenneth Fincham, Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society; our School of Politics and IR houses Prof. Matthew Goodwin, author of the seminal National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, the definitive account of the rise of politicians like Trump; the list goes on. As for attentiveness, Kent’s own Dr. Juliet Anderson was the inaugural winner of the Jinty Nelson Award for Inspirational Teaching. Of course, not all of our staff are perfect, every university has its bad eggs and “arsehole markers”; but overall, Kent students should count themselves lucky to have such amazing and accessible tutors.
With the environment in crisis, Kent (specifically Canterbury) should take pride in being one of the UK’s biggest garden campuses, set in 300 acres of parkland. Voted (by students, not some stuffy official) 19th in Student Crowd’s Top UK Campuses 2018 for its “very beautiful” campus. Kent virtually has its own ecosystem of ponds, woods, fields to relax in (do not knock it during exam season) and hills to kill yourself walking up to campus on. Simon Reeve or David Attenborough could have a honeymoon here. Despite the University’s best intentions to put a hotel on one of the fields, and do not even get me started on the deforestation currently happening across campus, Kent has managed to build a reputation as the Centre Parcs of universities; where else could you see a warren of rabbits or a seagull-detecting hawk on your way to lectures? Alongside its natural beauty, Kent features basically every amenity a student would need; a bank, a medical centre, two Co-ops and more cafes and bars than a Parisian high street. If you really wanted to, or are a massive introvert and lazily get groceries delivered, you need never leave campus all year, or at least until you get evicted before second year.
You then need a place on campus to live. Despite what InQuire’s satire editor has to say about it, I admire the accommodation at Kent. Some of my happiest memories happened in my little 5-bedroom house in Homestall Court or pre-drinks at Tyler Court (I never had posh enough friends to visit in Turing). I shan’t lie and say I do not think Darwin is rotten, or that Rutherford and Eliot are not unnavigable mazes (but do not believe the hoax that they were designed by an architect of Colombian prisons); each accommodation serves its purpose. At the top tier is Turing and Keynes, modern, open-planned and perfect for the pampered or rich amongst us. For those wanting the ‘authentic’ halls experience with a little less cash, there is Eliot and Rutherford (just do not get lost). If you like living in a house (like myself) or away from the noise (and people) of campus, then secluded and neighbourly Parkwood is perfect. From socialites to seclusion-seekers, poshos to paupers, there is a room for you on campus. It is not the Ritz or the gilded halls of Cambridge and Oxford, but what student wants that?
Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend we are not all at University to get a good job; it’s the reason why 80% of us are here, the other 20% are here because they just fancied it. Kent’s Careers and Employability Service is a jewel in our crown, helping us with interviews, CVs, cover letters and networking whilst also running numerous employability events throughout the year. Whilst a pain to use and understand, the Employability Points scheme allows us to access some worthy internships and placements, but only if you live in the local area in the summer and not three hours away in Northampton. It is all well and good having a First from Oxbridge, but if you have not got the employability skills or experiences that we can access here at Kent, what good is it? Indeed, some schools at Kent have some of the best employability statistics in the country, with our School of English ranked 6th for graduate employment, even above Oxford.
However, if Kent does deserve to be 65th, it is for our student union. Our sabbatical officers appear more interested in representing themselves on social media or the national stage than we students to the University. Indeed, it only represents 12% of students, the percentage that could be arsed to go and vote last March; so much so that if you ask a Kent student about the union, I guarantee they’ll say “Kent Union, what’s that?” Think of any great moment or achievement of Kent, the Union would have had nothing to do with it. It’s humiliating to admit that the most ground-breaking thing Kent Union has done in the past three years was messing-up Black History Month 2016 by using Sadiq Khan and Zayne Malik to promote it, causing a national scandal and consequently branded “a national embarrassment”.
Why is our university 65th? Our crash in 2018 was for two reasons. Firstly, the increase in our teacher-student ratio to 1:18. Secondly, student and staff satisfaction were taken during the UCU strikes when neither striking tutors or teacher-less students were particularly satisfied. Our continued decline has two schools of thought; the official argues it is because Kent is in the middle of a huge reformation, whilst I argue it is simply because the leagues’ judges are so blinded by ‘Research Quality’ or ‘Facilities Spend’ to see the real wonder of the campuses they visit.
A university is so much more than ratios and research. It is the status and helpfulness of its teachers, it is the state of its campus, it is where their students live and whether its students can get a job afterwards. In all these fields, Kent is exemplary. Its employment of great minds, its forests and rolling hills, the opportunities it offers its students all place it in the top tier of higher education. No, we are not Oxford or UCL, but we are still amazing. We stand for the modern, diverse and egalitarian university, and we are certainly not sixty-bloody-fifth! I love this university, so do not dare try to convince me it is not still in the top 20.
This article is part of our one-off edition of IQ Magazine, out from November the 29th 2019. Pick up the magazine on campus in our InQuire distribution bins in Keynes, Co-op, the Templeman library and other locations on campus.