Confusion, stress and resignation have marked the start of many postgraduate students’ first few weeks of Michaelmas Term at the LSE.
Frustration with various aspects of the Graduate Course Choice (GCC) system has has been the topic of talk amongst the postgraduates since most learnt about it during Welcome Week. Plagued by Departmental inconsistencies, poor communication, and IT breakdowns, students have been left criticizing the system, and ultimately doubting whether or not it is the best approach to the process.
Graduate Course Choice is the process by which postgraduate students choose elective modules for their course. Depending on the course studied, this ranges from 0.5 units, a single subject, to 3.5, or the equivalent of 1 to 7 different subjects, depending on the unit weighting of chosen subjects. For most typical taught masters, students are required to fill 2 units, which generally translates into 3-4 subjects, a significant portion of their program of study.
Postgraduate students have spent the first two weeks applying for elective courses for their degree through a range of different processes, usually determined by Departmental policy. This can be done through a ‘first come first served’ approach, priority access dependent on degree title or department, by exam, through evaluation of written statements of intent, or random allocation. Accordingly, deadlines and responses vary by department, and occasionally, by course convener.
Written statements proved a sore point for many students, as one said, “there were no guidelines on how to write this, what to write .. and there was no indication about the length”.
Students apply for their chosen subjects on the LSE for You platform, and then wait for a response from the course convener. This can be in the form of an offer, which students have 48 hours to respond to, or a position on the waitlist, with no indication on what number on the waitlist you are therein on or the likelihood of any future offer.
For most students, the existence of this process was an unwelcome surprise introduced at their welcome presentation in Week 0. Navigating the requirements for course registration, Departmental welcomes and, for a large percentage of the cohort, settling into a new country, the realities of course selection added what many felt to be an unnecessary burden.
In the words of one international student, “we have come all this way and may not be given access to those subjects that we came here to study”. For another, the frustration brought uncertainty about whether or not the student had made the right decision about accepting their offer at LSE, over offers at other top universities like NYU. This is particularly poignant for LLM students, who come from a cohort of almost 300 and are vying for a spot to pursue their desired specialism.
Many course conveners were evidently aware of the upcoming mania that was the first two weeks of Michaelmas Term, as they attempted to provide students with as much information as possible, hosting Q&As and encouraging students to email them with any queries or questions.
However, the argument that demand for subjects cannot be anticipated before the academic year started fell flat on the ears of many students. “I don’t understand why there can’t be some kind of collection of preferences, or even just education about the system so that we can prepare back-up subjects”, one student argued about the lack of information prior to registration.
IT issues soon began to plague LSE for You and the timetables website as well. Many postgrads experienced problems accessing LSE for You when they had an offer of study to accept, while others reported that their subject offers expired well in advance of the stipulated 48-hour window.
Amidst the confusion of a largely unconfirmed timetable, graduate classes officially began in Week 1. There were multiple instances of students preparing for subjects they may not be able to take, but also potentially not preparing for subjects they were eventually be accepted into. Additionally, issues accessing the timetables webpage meant that many struggled unnecessarily to simply find out what time or room classes were being held.
For students who have a set degree structure, or priority access into all required subjects, the process has been essentially pain-free. However, even those students who received offers for all of their first choice units believed the process should be improved. One student said, “I am certain almost everyone in my degree thought that GCC was a nightmare”. Another student simply said it was “a horrible way to start the academic year”.
As week 3 dawns, however, most postgraduate students are sticking with whatever combination of subjects they have offers for. The trade-off for waiting for the subject they thought they wanted, and the ones they have done the work for, has left many postgraduate students confused, frustrated, and stressed about the entire process of course selection.