The London Metropolitan University (or London Met, as those of us who had to suffer it call it) has a bad reputation. Not the kind of reputation some unis have – of binge drinking and bad punctuality – I'm talking people wincing when you mention that you go or once went there. You get the kind of reaction that people who have leprosy are probably pretty used to. A kind of patronising horror and a "Well done you!" for not being on the dole. It's been languishing around the bottom of the university league table, like a Scottish football team with too much money to be relegated, ever since I went there. This week, things managed to go from bad to governmental-intervention-bad.
London Met has not only been banned from taking in any more overseas students, but the ones who are currently enrolled there have had their visas cancelled in an act of draconian cuntiness. Supposedly, many of the students failed to meet the basic requirements of English literacy needed to study there, many had "attendance problems" and many more didn't even have valid visas. This dramatic heel spin from the government, and a colossal fuck-up from the university's admin department, has left around 2,500 students facing forcible deportation within 60 days. The reasons given seem mean, but having been there, I have to say I see where the government are coming from on this one. The newspapers are calling it a shock move; I'm calling it a sad inevitability.
You see, London Met has always been the university of choice for those of us who don't really want to go to university. When I enrolled there, I had just come off the back of a few dead-end jobs, found myself with nothing to do (apart from getting older and poorer every day) and found myself writing it down as the last of my choices on the application form. Because I wanted to stay in London to go to Kap Bambino gigs, or whatever I was into at the time, London Met made sense. It wasn't as intense as UCL (not that I had the grades to go there), not as lame and full of Virginia Tech maniacs-in-waiting as King's, not as full of bowl-cutted conceptual art students from Leamington as Goldsmiths and not as depressing sounding as The University of East London.
It seemed like I could go for a few years, get my student loan, watch Lukas Moodysson films with moody German girls and basically not have to take my degree seriously. I knew that what I wanted to do would take time and life experience, rather than a piece of watermarked green paper and a square hat, so enrolling at London Met made sense. It wasn't like I was ever going to get to the position in life to pay back my loans. However, within 18 months, I would have dropped out twice, finally getting notice of my dismissal about three months after I started working at VICE, and six months after I attended my last lesson there.
I felt like I'd let a few people I liked there down. I was regretful, but the ides were there. Within minutes of being there, I could feel the rot beginning to set in. The first thing that hits you is its uniquely depressing appearance. The place looks like the stage set for an adaptation of 1984, made in 1974, in a Soviet satellite state. And I quite like Brutalist architecture.
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The "tower building" that held most of my classes, and loomed over the Holloway Road like a burnt out hillside mansion or an existentialist cooling tower, is a regular in "ugliest building in London" lists and it's even worse in the flesh. The singed concrete and oil slick windows gave it the look of a ministry for the government department for suicide. Like a dilapidated nuclear bunker built above ground by a megalomaniac, somehow it looked impenetrable and crumbling at the same time. Even weirder was what crouched next to it, a modernist mess of geometry and aluminium by world famous architect, Daniel Liebeskind. Something he must have designed with a hangover. The two sat next to each other incongruously, like a married couple you couldn't imagine meeting. He was tall, simple and plain, she was short and spiky. Together, they shared their miserable matrimony on a main road in North London.
The people who went there were the lost souls of higher education, domestic wasters like me, and the horribly misinformed foreign students who went to the tutorials and spent their little money on all the course material that could ever possibly be needed. There was a strange distance between those who really wanted to be there and those who'd rather be anywhere else. You could see the joyful enthusiasm in the overseas students' eyes as they thrust their hands into air to answer questions on post-modernism (we always learnt about post-modernism). They had obviously bought into a badly sold dream of bettering themselves and, at times, it was horrible to watch – knowing that they were doing five times as much work as me, but somehow we were still drifting along in the same leaky boat.
And these are the ones who are getting fucked over, and who have resorted to protesting about the government's decision.
The lecturers were largely brilliant. They seemed to be experienced in engaging people and possessed a wealth of genuine expertise in their chosen subjects. It seems to me that the difference between London university lecturers and those who teach in the red bricks, is that the London-based ones do other things. At London Met, I was taught by people who had written books and made films. It wasn't Martin Amis lecturing at Oxford, but they were people who had achieved things. These weren't decrepit Classics professors, deliberately putting their one book on the syllabus just so it stays in print. I liked being taught by professionals, rather than professional know-it-alls. It's all very well knowing the theory, but if you wanna learn how to do anything in life, it's best to hear from someone who knows the practice.
It was the admin department where the university really fell down, though. A nightmare of Escher logic and forgotten phone calls that made trying to hand in some work seem like a fiendish ITV show. The people running it seemed to be ex-students, ones who'd probably racked up massive ketamine debts and were now fated to pay back the university forever. Walking in the undergraduate office as a student was like entering Shawshank as a free man, envious glares and unhelpful stares gave the place an atmosphere that made you consider never doing work again.
And I suppose this is what eventually brought about the problems the university is suffering from now, and what will probably be its downfall. London Met isn't a bad university in terms of anything that education should really be judged on; it's just badly run. It's full of people who really want to be there and teachers who want to teach.
The overseas students at London Met might not all be potential Zuckerbergs, but a lot of them are people who believe in Britain and what it can do in a time when not many of its natives do. We've got an entire generation of young British men and women darkening their tongues with WKD and internet drugs, mining their way into the parts of their brains that should be being filled by knowledge from their courses. The kids doing English Lit at Swansea aren't the ones who want to learn about Joyce and Conrad, it's the kids from Levski and Nairobi at London Met who do. There are uninterested people at every university, but punishing those who want to learn because of their passport is not a valid solution.
It's an institution that needs a serious overhaul, but potentially ruining the lives of thousands of people who aren't just at a vulnerable stage in their lives, but living in a pretty vulnerable world right now, doesn't help anyone. Things need to be tightened up, standards need to be improved. But is sending people home really the answer? No, of course it isn't. Many of the students facing deportation will no doubt just go underground anyway, forced by a tyrannical policy into doing what they never initially intended. As for the university itself, London Met reckon it's gonna corkscrew a £30m hole in their budget, at a time when university funding isn't exactly the government's top priority. This isn't setting an example or making a stand, it's kicking the down when they're down.
Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive
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