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The real deal

If you want a university experience don’t settle for anything less, says Melanie Butler

The appeal of summer courses branded as a ‘university experience’ and held in an ivy-clad Oxbridge college or other ancient-looking UK campus is easy to understand. What is less obvious is why so many students choose to go to one run by a language school or other private sector education group, good as some of these are, when – if you’re looking for a university experience – you could perfectly easily go to one run by a university.

Oxford, the UK’s oldest university, runs its very own residential summer school for adults (18+) exploring a different academic area every week. For 16-18 year olds, St Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland, runs a Summer Academic Experience Course; while Aberystwyth, the oldest in Wales, runs a University Experience Course covering British culture and English language.

These kinds of courses are not only likely to be more authentic, they are also more likely to feature teachers who actually work at the university, rather than undergraduates trained in the subject but not in how to teach it or English language teachers who took a first degree in the subject at some other university several years ago.

The university-run course isn’t likely to be any more expensive – the university doesn’t need to rent rooms in its own buildings, nor is profit the main motive for running the course – universities use them primarily to attract future students, either from their summer intake or from the students’ peer groups back home.

Most important of all is its effect on a student’s CV. Are future employers more likely to be impressed by the fact that you attended a course about university life run by the Bloggins School of English or by the fact your course was run by an actual world- famous university?

For those with a high enough level of English, there is a range of academic subjects on offer: science and engineering at Manchester, fashion at Regent’s University in London or research skills at Keele’s School of Medicine. Those who need to polish their English can sign up for an English language course at the same universities and spend their summer alongside international students from across the world.

For courses focused on academic English, all three of the Gazette’s top-ranking university language centres – Manchester, Sheffield and Edge Hill – offer summer schools, as does our top-ranking Scottish centre at Perth College, which is part of the University of the Highlands and Islands. When it comes to learning the English you need for university, it should be no surprise to learn that it’s the universities who excel at teaching it, not least because they attract the most qualified and experienced teachers.

All things considered, if you’re looking for a university experience, you might as well go to one run by a university.

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Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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