By Joseph Barker (The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia)
Studying abroad offers the opportunity to become truly immersed in an alternative way of learning in a new university within a different country, and I shall therefore use this blog to describe my own academic experience in Australia. Studying History at UWA followed the same basic structure of weekly lectures, readings and tutorials as my studies in Manchester. The nature of module selection, by contrast, varied hugely. At the University of Manchester, the History course provides an exceptionally diverse range of modules, covering a variety of geographic locations, time periods and ways to study history. By contrast, despite UWA advertising a similarly appealing list of course modules, unfortunately only two of these modules were run during this semester. As Manchester stipulated two of my four module selections had to be history units, these courses effectively became compulsory. This lack of choice firstly proved challenging, as I have not found the ‘City in History’ module academically stimulating. Although I would not have voluntarily chosen to study medieval women in Europe, the excellent teaching and range of course readings provided has enabled me to develop a stronger interest in gender history.
The Australian university system also places much greater emphasis upon broadening units than in the UK. The Anthropology module ‘Environment, Disaster and Power in Asia’ has allowed me to gain a greater understanding of modern issues within this region, which has compensated for being unable to pursue my primary interest in studying Asian history. Furthermore, I have been able to enhance my understanding of journalism and the media through taking a communications module as my fourth course option. This has been a hugely useful opportunity, which I would not have been able to pursue in Manchester, as I have gained greater insight into the academic aspects of journalism and film production, a field I intend to pursue following my university studies.
In terms of assessment, the Australian university system provides further contrast. In general, there is less focus upon examinations; indeed, I have been fortunate enough to not have exams this semester, meaning I have extra time to travel over summer (a source of much jealousy amongst my university mates). Instead, more emphasis is placed upon ongoing assessment, with weekly attendance, tutorial participation and quizzes counting for around 20% of each modules’ marks. Moreover, at around the mid-point of the semester, a shorter written piece has been required for the modules I have taken, to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the course so far. These tasks have taken a variety of forms, but are not equivalent to a fully written essay. Finally, the most significant form of assessment is a larger essay of around 2,500 words, to be completed for the end of the semester, accounting for around 50% of a students’ grade. As these essays entail firstly a bibliographic exercise, which I recently submitted, I have found more feedback has been available at UWA, meaning I feel more confident for writing up the final essay.
Overall, my academic experience whilst studying at The University of Western Australia has, so far, been more relaxed in comparison to studying in Manchester. The constant forms of assessment, however, mean you must maintain a degree of focus throughout the semester; unfortunately, you cannot rely upon a week of all-nighters in John Ryland’s Library in the last week of the semester to achieve a respectable grade.