Here I am at Stirling University, ironically in some of the ugliest buildings in one of the most scenic locations in Britain. The campus is built on the side of a loch, with rabbits and ducks and the obligatory golf course (this is Scotland, after all). With the Wallace Tower rising out of the distant, soft Scottish mist, velvet green hills and Airthrey Castle smack next door, I'm grateful I've opted for Stirling over Reading, Manchester, and even Bath.
This week, I'm one of 200 A102 Open University students, studying mid- Victorian Britain for the arts foundation course. We are joined on campus by the equivalent number of technology students, kitted out with anoraks to test water and look at rocks. I'm out to discover whether rumours of students indulging in illicit late-night activities at OU summer schools are really true. I'm studying the plight of the Victorian "fallen woman", so naturally want to compare and contrast the 19th century with the Nineties.
Art history lecturer Penny Muter makes the analysis of art utterly compelling, which takes some talent if you have ever examined Pre-Raphaelite paintings. She inspires me to take the organised trip to Glasgow's Kelvingrove Gallery to look at more paintings. Judi Leighton revises the music section, where luckily I'm teamed up with Kay, who got 100 per cent on her music essay. Flamboyant Professor Marwick, in clashing Seventies garb and fuelled by red wine and ego, is already an A102 hero, as he presents the OU history TV programmes. By the end of the week, we are analysing quite complex primary texts. Philosopher Bernard Waites exposes how little the average group of students today knows about religion, and Bob Sexton tells us probably all we need to know about writing essays: "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and tell them you've told them." Life is not all tutorials and evening lectures, however. I have a go at Scottish dancing for a mere 50 pence. I'm terrible, of course, but it doesn't really matter. I seem to miss several of the "formal" events (trivia quiz and Seventies disco), as I spend most of my time just talking to people over the odd drink. As OU study is essentially a solitary pursuit, it is a good idea to chat with fellow students. …