As I drove to work this week I was working on a metaphor that I’d like to share.
As you drive into the university you drive on new roads, new infrastructure, new suburbs – new opportunities. Then you get to the gates. They look good, a new coat of paint and a new logo mounted up and lit. Then you hit a roundabout, broken is the most apt name for it. The surface is cracked, pot-holed, crated and torn. It’s been patched a thousand times only for the tears to return bigger, deeper and more dangerous. It is the only road I know where a car needs to engage stability control to make the turn properly so uneven is the surface.
The first building you see is the brand spanking new dentistry building – a modern construction the sits in native grounds. Behind it though is a collection of dated buildings. Many have seen renovations over the last couple of years, but many haven’t. They sport worn carpet and worn furniture, sporting tears and sweat stains. Navigating the university is confusing – signs point to carparks rather than buildings and buildings are signposted as numbers rather than by their function. There’s a unique one way system that defies belief on many levels and the roads – well most of them are just as broken as the roundabout.
Describing this maze is a nightmare for visitors!
“Right you’ll need a four wheel drive to navigate some of the terrain. Now you want to come in the main entrance and go straight through, and to proceed to carpark 4, don’t get off this path otherwise its circles for you. Then get out of the vehicle and head south for a while till you go past building 2 then hang a right. Proceed to the building with no number named after someone you’ve probably never heard of.”
OK. So stick with me on this.
There is plenty of work and funding available to get people to universities – new pathways and better access. But there are some issues with the infrastructure of the university itself. When you arrive there’s a stumbling block right at the entrance, a rocky path full of potholes that needs to be traversed carefully – the transition from real life to university life.
There are some bright sparkly features that look great in a brochure – but there’s also a lot of tired and drab stuff. Some spaces have been outfitted with the latest gadgets, some are just tired and old. Navigating the university is a messy challenge. Nothing is clearly signposted and when it is, it often adds to the confusion. After you’ve been here for a while it starts to make sense and there are always hidden gems and new challenges, but for visitors or new enrolments this place is a maze.
If we are true to the aim of getting more people into higher education then we need to do is start investing in some of the important infrastructure. Getting them in is one thing, but keeping them on campus means investing in what’s here. You can’t get to class if you can’t use the roads or find the room. So please, fix the damn roundabout!
(EDIT – after reading this back I think I’ve used a lot of mixed metaphor! I am reluctant to actually edit it though and change a thought in time… Maybe I’ll revisit it another time or develop it into something simpler!)