How to get better value from your costly education

As I was filling in some thoughts on character backgrounds, I was considering a way to mark Heath Moore out as an innovator. I wanted a neat, concise detail to help announce him as someone who looks at the world differently.

I’d been mulling over diversity of education. A friend, James Firth had just delivered a presentation on this very topic and I’d seen some of his session on video.

It occurred to me that something I could have done at university was not only go to my lectures, but sneak into other lectures too.

I did it once – attending a lecture on textile printing. Not only for the shits and giggles and not just because I was an engineering student and it was nice to spend forty five minutes with a greater female student ratio.  I did it out of curiosity, it gave me an appreciation of screen printing that I wouldn’t previously have experienced.

Part of the brilliance of Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ is it’s breadth. It is not merely about life the universe and everything. It’s also about how our species came to devise the current understanding of our cosmological surroundings. To achieve this the programs presented ideas, principles and contributors in their historical context. This was a consequence of a particular educational style experienced by the younger Carl Saga. One that valued diversity and breadth as much as depth and specialisation.

Seizing the idea I had two immediate thoughts:

A) It’s absolutely what Heath would have done and it MUST be in the novel.


B) Why doesn’t this idea occur to more students *at the time the opportunity is available*?

I’m 20 years past my higher education days and now kicking myself for not dipping into the alien worlds of astrophysics; art-history; optics; management science; psychology; anatomy; pharmacology; fluid-mechanics; Japanese literature; economics and more textiles.

Just one random lecture a week extra. Over three years I’d have had an introduction to a view on seventy different worlds !

For forty five minutes extra sitting down per week think of the phenomenal value I could have brought to subsequent pub and PTA quiz teams.

Some, if not most topics and subjects would be impenetrable without prior knowledge but you’d gain some form of appreciation surely?Also, this idea probably only works with lecture groups larger than about 30 or so, preserving anonymity.

I’m fortunate enough to interview potential employees and potential chartered engineers. If in interview someone told me they’d done this or something akin to this, I’d admire their willingness to embrace the unknown; to dare to be different and to be a maverick. They would still need to tick the other boxes, it’s not a royal flush, but it would really mark someone as a standout.

As most students are soon going to be paying in the region of £9,000 a year in fees. More of them should and will be looking for solid, tangible value for money. Getting the most out of a chosen HE institution is now on the agenda – it’s as much a marketplace as any other now. By charging fees HE has ironically become cheapened, commoditised.

My advice, why not take extra curricular lectures when possible? Sneak in – what have you got to lose? Be mildly mischievous, don’t disrupt proceedings but listen, participate and ask questions too.

After all, how could a venerable seat of learning begrudge inquiring minds the opportunity to learn, to gain breadth aswell as depth? Surely it’s in the interest of our nation to nurture more rounded individuals? Who could object to that?

Especially if you are paying them nine grand a year – it’s about getting your money’s worth.

At this point my inner anarchist; my inner ‘Mark Thomas’ kicks-in and takes up the narration:

“This would teach the money grabbing bastards / investment starved institutions* (delete as applicable) that people have a right to education and that right can be vigorously defended simply by students indulging in more of it……. In short and quoting a Hidden Cameras lyric – steal all you can motherfuckers”

Now, would this noble idea just be dismissed sneeringly as the educational equivalent of stuffing your pockets with the buffet bread rolls? (Which is probably something students are going to have to do a lot more of too.)


If this idea gained widespread favour some HE institutions would soon start to run out of lecture hall capacity. This practice may be rumbled and derided as a form of theft, with registers and swipe cards ushered in to prevent abuses. Before that happens though, there is a glorious window where students can disrupt. Driving universities to become victims of these charging policies would be a suitably fitting reminder that value is in the eye of the beholder and nine grand per annum to an increasingly squeezed and poor cohort means delivering more – truly more is more, charge more you should expect to deliver more.

So what has this somewhat deranged discourse got to do with this graphic novel (especially as I’ve now spent all of this evenings writing time on this footnote) ?

A plot element of Catastrophe Noir depends on Catherine Black having significant student debt – it’s why she lives in a caravan and why she has a second job (her job as a marine biologist is lowly paid). It’s also partly why it’s set in 2018.

It’s with the character of Catherine in mind that I realise this mad utopian dream of anarchist students going to additional random lectures isn’t going to happen. Whatever spare time current university students have, it won’t be spent in additional lectures.

It won’t even be spent doing what I did – drinking, playing pool, watching daytime tv, eating Abduls kebabs and browsing in Manchester’s record shops. Why not? Well pubs and record shops are closing at a calamitous rate and because today’s students will generally be trying to hold down part time jobs to alleviate the crippling burden of being financially fucked over by their predecessors.