Our students: Sean Doyle

Sean Doyle is sitting in a café with his nose buried in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film. A mature student on the Foundation in Arts and Humanities, he’s got an essay to do.

“Applying to the Foundation was part of a process of re-engaging with myself and the wider world,” explains Sean. “I signed up for an evening class at the University – Reading English Literature – and was also involved in a reading group, run by University of Bristol students studying a BA in English Literature and Community Engagement. That’s how I heard about the Foundation.”

The reading group was run in partnership with IDEAL, a Bristol-based community organisation which helps people who have overcome long-term addiction problems to rebuild their lives through training, creative media and education. Sean has been involved with IDEAL for some time, part of his personal process of finding new focus in his life.

The Foundation in Arts and Humanities is an interesting route to a University degree. It targets students who have not traditionally engaged with education; people of all ages who have been out of education or work for a long time, or who didn’t study A-Levels. The idea behind the programme is to make a degree more accessible to a wider audience by preparing them with a pre-degree year. Applicants aren’t judged on the number of A*s they have, but rather on their life experience and their potential to perform well across a broad programme of arts and humanities subjects.

“I was interested in the Foundation because of the sweep of subjects offered,” Sean continues. “The course touches on a lot of things and I thought it would be a good way of consolidating my knowledge and life experience so far.”

The first cohort of students started in September 2013. With a wide age range spanning 19 to 70-plus, the students bring with them diverse experiences from very different lives. “If you drew a Venn diagram of us all, there wouldn’t be any overlaps,” observes Sean. “This is what makes our discussions so fascinating.”

Asked whether he is enjoying the programme, Sean says that he isn’t….well not at the moment anyway. Up against an essay deadline, he admits that he finds the writing part of the course a challenge. However, help to structure essays and present arguments is available from the programme tutors and there are also lectures on essay writing techniques at the start of the year.

“I’m a bit anxious about it at the moment,” he says, “but the course is so stimulating and has changed how I look at things. I’ve always been a ‘questioner’, but now I question my own views and why I have certain opinions. That’s different.”

The course covers a broad spread of subjects in the arts and humanities. Issues such as media representations of God, Apartheid and the songs of Bob Dylan sit side-by-side ready for exploration. When thinking about doing a degree next year, Sean is particularly interested in the new Liberal Arts degree, as it provides space for critical analysis across a similarly broad range of topics. “I’m also thinking about history or film too,” he says.

Joining the Foundation can be a big step. Worries around finances or whether students think that they will be capable of doing the work appear to be common concerns. Sean does receive a bursary and his benefits haven’t changed, although money is tight.

“Even though I’m a bit worried at the moment, my gut feeling is that I can perform well as a Foundation student,” says Sean. “I’m getting more self-motivated and confident.”

“The best bit about the Foundation is that it provides space to learn and to explore ideas,” he says. “I’m really interested in film because it is a modern way of telling a story. One of my first lectures was on film criticism and the lecturer presented three things to consider. These have stuck with me and I find myself thinking about them whenever I watch films now!”

Sean does voluntary work at IDEAL and is not able to socialise with other students that much. “It doesn’t bother me too much,” he says. “Although I’ve noticed that I don’t get handed out fliers by other students when wandering around the University precinct. I’m guessing that’s because I’m a bit older than them,” he grins ruefully.

“I do feel lucky to be a University of Bristol student, and I’d like to carry on to a degree next year. I need to get through the Foundation successfully first though…so back to that essay.”

"It's a long time since I
was at school"

Read Sean's take on his experience of the Foundation and why he feels the arts and humanities matter.