Intellectual recovery

Andrew Voyce Certificate for Masters in Social and Public Policy, University of Brighton

My certificate for my Masters in Social and Public Policy, University of Brighton, 1998. I studied part-time at the university from 1995 to 1998, and completed eight taught modules and a 16,000 word dissertation.

OK. My log of the fourteen years I have been registered with a university and the outcomes.

At age 18 in 1969 I entered Reading University to study Economics. In the first year I changed to major in Politics, and passed all three First University Examinations at the first or second attempt. I remained at Reading for five years, having been granted a year's sabbatical at the end of the second scheduled year. I extended this sabbatical to a second year off and returned to complete my final year. I sat nine three hour papers in 1974. When I went to the notice board in the Department of Politics I could not see my name. The Professor told me I had got the result of fail, that's why my name was not up there. He said: 'If I had known,,,' Whatever that meant I did not pursue. So I graduated without a degree. Shortly afterwards I was admitted to the asylum at Hellingly in East Sussex. I now know that I could have applied for an aegrotat degree, something I was uncertain of. The staff including the doctors who got their position by dint of academic qualification, did nothing to encourage me to seek an aegrotat. Had I got a pass aegrotat degree, this would have added to my self esteem and I would not have felt so useless over the years to come. I wrote to Reading in the 2000's and enquired if I could be awarded an aegrotat, and was told that by that time it was too late to be considered. However I did look up the University regulations and am confident that I would have been eligible for a pass degree, given that I was mentally ill at the time I sat my finals for that fail result.

The first time that anyone had confidence in me after that was when I was sectioned for the first time in about 1981. This was for a year under the 1959 Mental Health Act. I took up my right to appeal. The managers of Oakwood asylum near Maidstone did not revoke my sectioning or treatment order but recommended that I start the Open University. I was resettled to a Richmond Fellowship hostel at 27 Lytton Grove, Putney, and began the OU. I was allowed two years' advanced standing (course credits) so only had to do four years at one credit per year to get the first stage, a pass BA. This I completed at Lytton Grove and at a house I managed to buy at 6 Orissa Road in Plumstead. My course credits were a social science foundation, a politics course, two economics half credits, and a course in popular culture. I was awarded this pass BA in about 1986. Shortly after that I spent five years homeless, as I was still given unsatisfactory medication and was on the asylum revolving door. But all during my homeless years I kept my OU BA certificate. It was fortunate that the certificate was plastic coated as this protected it from the damp and chaos that are a part of homeless life.

After a second period under section, this time the 1983 Act, at Oakwood, I was resettled to Bexhill in East Sussex. This last section was in 1991. I had by that time been able to negotiate with the NHS to have medication which was suitable and with which I could comply. I also proposed that I complete the Honours portion of my OU degree. So I spent one year (1992) in a residential care home where I tool a higher level course in Democratic Government and Politics, with the result of a 2.1 category. The next year I spent in a group home and bedsitter and took a course called Global Politics. I was disppointed that this included a lot of technical stuff about global organisations such as INMARSAT which was very difficult to decypher. Also the course referred to Soviet and American spheres of influence, which was difficult to get a handle on as the Cold War had ended and Boris Yeltsin was democratically elected leader of Russia. That year I got the result of 2.2, so my total credits made for a BA (Hons) with a classification of 2.2, lower second class honours. I got that degree at a ceremony at the Brighton Centre which was attended by my guests from the caring community in Bexhill. I valued highly the support of Margaret Moss and Allison Peterson.

I think that the rule that you need a 2.1 to go to do a Master's degree is generally a good one. A Master's is no sinecure, no easy passage, and you need to have proven yourself at Bachelor's level to cope with the requirements of a higher degree. So I was not too disappointed when the OU and Sussex University turned me down to take an MA (as they insist on a 2.1). Someone suggested that I apply to Brighton University, which had recently acquired University status. I was pleased when they gave me an interview. At the interview with Bob Skelton and another academic, I said that community care had made all the difference to me, that I was glad the pernicious asylums were closed, and that of all people I had Margaret Thatcher to thank for my new life. They took me on, and I started a part-time MA in 1995. I had to pay fees, which attracted an out-of-work discount of 50%. I paid for the fees from my enhanced mental health benefits, and went to the Falmer campus every Thursday for seminars of two hours each. There were two seminars a week for the two courses taken each term. The requirements for the degree were eight taught courses and a 16,000 word dissertation. I passed each taught module with a pass grade, except for one course, European Social Policy, where I got a distinction. One course, Policy Analysis, was maked at 49% where the pass mark was 50%. This for an essay??!! Whatever, I resubmitted and got the extra mark to pass that module. My dissertation got a comfortable pass, my subject being single young unemployed males - the so-called 'underclass'. There were some delays with the submission of my dissertation, so I was awarded the degree of Master of Arts in Social and Public Policy in 1998, and went to a degree ceremony at the Brighton Centre in January 1999. As well as Allison Peterson and Margaret Moss, my mother attended. I had been estranged from her for a number of years, so this was a significant event as well as the importance of the degree. I have to say that of the cohort I began with at Brighton, which was about eight students in total, only two of us got the result of MA. There were many who joined us along the way and who also dropped out or failed modules badly. In particular, the Research Methods module was carnage. Of a massive class of about 30 or 40, about half failed, there were no distinctions, and I just about scraped a pass at a few points over the 50% needed.

So, there were a total of five years at Reading, four years to get a Pass BA from the OU, a futher two years to get the Honours component from the OU, and three years at Brighton. That's fouteen in total. What can I say about that? Obviously I enjoy academic life when I do well. What does it say, that I got an MA when I was almost 50? It's a pity that couldn't have been arranged in my 20's when I was first under psychiatric 'care' in the asylum system. In my 20's an MA could have been life changing. In my 50's not so. I condemn the staff and system who saw fit to consign me to a 10-bed male dormitory, put me on horrendous medication, and send me to Industrial Therapy to pack soap into boxes when I could have gone back to university and achieved something.

An observation about my time with the MA at Brighton... As I say, I got through the interview where I mentioned the act of social justice when the asylums were closed, and have Mrs Thatcher of all people to thank for that. Yet I did not cover mental health at all for my MA. I even covered the 1990 NHS and Community Care Act. But I did not write a 3,000 word essay on Community Care, for that module I wrote a 3,000 word essay on the NHS part of the Act which brought in the internal market (yes it was new in 1990). What an opportunity to explore mental health in depth over the eight taught modules and dissertation, why did I not do that? At the time I was on 300 mg of Largactyl a day, and was alert enough to complete the academic tasks, but could not think clearly enough to see the big picture. I did not experience the extreme side effects of asylum injections, so complied with the medication. However, what a great opportunity was missed to use my status as an expert by experience and to focus the MA on mental health. Which was the topic of my successful interview.

Lastly, on academic life and intellectual capacity. After the two years off at Reading University, I had imploded intellectually, I suffered a complete mental meltdown. I did try to prepare for my return to do my final, third year. I got a reader's ticket at Sussex University as I lived at Crowborough. I had a girlfriend at Reading and she asked me to read a book for her, for her English course. I have never been good at fiction and she asked me to read Jude The Obscure by Hardy. I read it, but did not take notes as I went, and could not tell her what the book was about. I also thought that all I needed for my finals when I returned was to 'learn up' on Politics and write the right answers. How stupid! Politics is a creative discipline, as are all university disciplines, and you can't just learn it up and get it right - you need opinions and a viewpoint. I just had an intellectual meltdown, I could not turn anywhere for help or advice. I had lost my critical faculty. In my first year at Reading I had done some independent reading in the library and had discovered alienation. This was, I now know, good and dilligent progress. But that turned into laziness, drug taking, inability to cope to with my newly acquired artificial leg, and a complete mental wipeout. So I am thankful that my MA is evidence of a return of my ability to think. As I am now on less sedative medication, I am able to independently appreciate and explore topics that are abstract and conceptual, and that is a good place to be. I had thought that I might be able to take on a PhD in my sixties, but I am happy with where I am now and with some of the more creative projects I am involved with, and may not get the time or the opportunity to embark on a doctorate. I'm happy to have got my brain back.