My year and a half(ish) abroad was full of unbeatable experiences, intellectual opportunities, and exposure to different values and lifestyles. The collection of loved ones I took away from it all is, in itself, enough to say that the jump is worth it.
With that said, I can say with absolute certainty that by the time we International students leave Brunel, we leave with the promise that we will never let another International make the same mistake again. London is a city robust with opportunity and high-class education. With options like Imperial, Queen Mary’s, UCL and LSE, there’s no need to fall into the same trap that the rest of us did.
1. Brunel University is not in London. While yes, technically the university (which is located in Uxbridge) does land in Zone 6 of what is deemed to be “Greater London”, you may as well be in the shire with the hobbits. With only two lines (Metropolitan and Piccadilly) running to one stop at the very end of both lines, and at a station where there’s closures half the time, you might as well be taking in the train (which we often do – taking the train fro West Drayton to Paddington is twice the price but half the time). The rent is cheap, but have no illusions that you’ll be going to Central; unless you want to wait in Central til 5am or take the night bus back that will get you home in the same time, your days off campus into Central will feel like a field trip and your parties in Central will be limited (until you start schmoozin’ your friend’s boyfriends’ roommates’ secondary school friend who goes to Imperial).
2. The International Finance administration is a hot mess. Before leaving to Brunel I was awarded the Brunel International Scholarship- which ended up causing me more financial harm than good. Despite coordinating with the International Finances Office months in advance, they did not account for the scholarship funds and thus misappropriated my student loan from the U.S. government. This led to stacks of financial amendments, and a fraction of of the funds deemed appropriate for liveable expenses. Above all, in the end it came out in a meeting they had miscalculated administration fees and conversation rates, so hundreds (possibly even thousands) of dollars were lost to the International Finance Office in the process. But was I reimbursed for this? Nope.
3. In fact, the administration in general is a bit of a mess. During the Visa process, I was sent the wrong document and told it was my CAS (possibly the most important document in the application). So when I turned that in with the application, The UKBA emailed me and told me I had 48 hours to turn in the correct document- at which point, Brunel told me they had not administered it because they were waiting on documents from me. Documents they had never, ever asked for. Lucky for me, the situation ended amicably and I made it to the UK with a legal passport, but International students quickly discovered that we all had a similar story so BE WARNED and BE ORGANIZED.
4. The amenities leave something to be desired. If I had a dime for every time someone complained about the faulty printers and wondered where the hell our tuition was going, I could buy the school enough new printers to stop the complaints altogether! Though the school boasts of being equipped with technology and cutting edge equipment, most of this is reserved for the Engineering schools and/or Sports Science departments. Outside of this, anything that they do offer breaks down on the regular and racks up lines like Primark during a clearance sale.
5. There is no accountability on postgraduate course supervisors. I could get into some horror stories about Master’s and PhD level supervisors throwing students under the bus and putting them between an academic rock and hard place during their most vulnerable points in their career. I was fortunate to have one of the most insightful, supportive, and above all available supervisors among my group of friends and coursemates; however, many others were not so lucky. I’d heard stories of supervisors using students’ papers to secure a bi-line, threatening to fail students for minor infractions, escaping any and all office hours (and even the country) and then docking students’ grades based on their “poor performance and communication”; the list goes on. So take heed and find a good supervisor, because this can make or break the experience – ESPECIALLY at Brunel.
6. If you live on campus, get ready to move out with no support THE WEEK OF YOUR DEADLINE. In our programme, the dissertation – which was a 15,000 word APA style independent research assignment that determined the outcome of our MSc – was due 19 September. Our move-out date? 7 September. The university offered no extensions, no support finding housing, no low-cost on-site or off-site accommodation and no extensions or mitigating circumstances for our dissertation. Now, while “planning ahead” might seem like the only way around this, keep in mind that as students, very few of us were working enough (if at all) to afford deposits and rent, and even fewer had the security to sign 6-12 month contracts (which was expected of almost every renter). Also, a potentially graduating student with an expiring visa doesn’t look attractive when compared to the other 150 applicants fighting for the same affordable room/studio/flat, so keep that in mind.
7. Congratulations, it’s over! But don’t expect Placement & Careers Centre to help you find a job. In the final weeks of our Master’s whirlwind, several students (myself included) marched to the PCC in hopes of getting the support and resources we needed to find work. Instead, what we found were a bunch of desk-bound suits showing us Indeed, Glassdoor, Reeds, and other sites we’d all heard of, and lending us unspecific CV/Resume tips we could have Googled in the 10 minutes it took to walk there. All information we had, no networks to help us in the door. Though we merely constitute a small statistic of students, not one colleague of mine found work through PCC – and in fact, 6 months later, the majority of my and my partners’ classmates (including British folk without visa or nationality restrictions) STILL have not found work, and the PCC has STILL not been a resource to any of us.
Now keep in mind, this blog is not reflective of the programme I was in; while the larger administration of Brunel seems to run with the bureaucratic logic of Henry VIII, my particular programme (Cross-Cultural Psychology) was an outstanding (and unfortunately under-funded) exception to the rule.
While there are upsides to attending to Brunel as a postgraduate student, I was shocked by the overwhelming negative feedback I heard from students and even more surprised to hear it among veteran students whilst the internet (so far as I had scoured it prior to attending Brunel) seemed to be devoid of the criticism. So I’ve added my (and a few others’) twopence to the digital conversation.
So fellow Brunel graduates and postgraduates – what are your experiences as a student Brunel? What do you think should future students know before applying or attending?