The September 2017 Staff/Country Focus is provided by Helen Biggs from New Zealand.
I’m Helen, a staff member at UCL Libraries’ Special Collections. My role includes promoting our amazing collections of rare books and archives to staff and students, sharing them with community and school groups, and supporting the exhibitions and outreach work that goes on around UCL’s libraries. To learn more about rare and unique materials on education held at the IOE, check out the Archives and Special Collections LibGuide.
Although I’ve been working at UK universities for four years now, I still find it hard to get my head around how things work here. The degrees I studied for at home in New Zealand seem a lot more flexible than what is available to students here. Most degrees allow you to do a certain number of papers (modules) from disciplines outside of your own, and through a process called “cross-crediting,” I was able to study for two degrees at once, gaining both a BCom in International Business and a BA in Political Science (minoring in French language) from my alma mater.
My post-graduate qualification was very flexible too, although in a different way. I studied for my Master of Information Studies as a distance student, attending evening classes that were held either by conference call or entirely online. I missed out on making connections with my fellow students, but I was able to work (at first part-time, and then full-time) without it impacting on my studies.
The other difference worth noting is that, officially, New Zealand is a bicultural country and at its best the education system tries to reflect this. Most higher education institutions acknowledge that a traditional Western style of student support doesn’t suit all students. Wānanga offer tertiary education in a Māori cultural context. Some universities and technical institutes have their own marae as a focal point for Māori staff and student support. Elsewhere, bicultural ideology may be acknowledged in smaller ways, with bilingual signage or contemporary buildings reflecting Māori art and design. As a Pākehā this didn’t always affect my own learning experience, but I do notice the difference in the UK, where (understandably) the education system lacks Māori and Pasifika influence.
Of course, one thing the UK does have over New Zealand is sheer numbers. Nationally, New Zealand has a total of eight universities – here in London, I think there’s that many within easy walking distance of my office alone!