A while ago I wrote about how I was pleasantly surprised to find that a regime instigated problem wouldn’t be held against me by the Open University and the OU coordinators here at the prison when they granted me extra time to finish the penultimate course of my degree and registered me for the final course too. Since then things have moved on a bit.
Firstly, I received some good news. I finished the course that had been delayed and, despite all the problems in getting it to the OU, I received a distinction. But then I got a letter from the OU saying that they were having delays in getting course materials to students. In fact, the time got closer and closer to the course start date and I received nothing at all.
On the 4th of October that date came and went and it was two weeks more before I received the first package containing the question papers and course guide. But alas, no study books or set texts. I now had the questions, but no way of answering them!
The problem is, the official prison rules state that OU students in prison are not permitted to communicate directly with the OU, we have to go through the coordinator at the prison, and she is so snowed under that all she can do to help us is send the OU emails asking when the books will come. We’re lucky to get a reply at all and, when we do, it only ever amounts to ‘soon’, or ‘in due course’.
We have been assured that we will receive extensions for our assignments should they be needed, but there is no consideration for how this will affect our later assignments. My first assignment was due in on the 30th October, my second is due on the 4th December. Presuming that I receive all of the books around the start of December, I will then have to read, learn and write two assignments at once whilst also studying for my third assignment due in in January! It’s all very well granting an extension, but this just gives you less time to work on the rest of the course, inevitably forcing down your grade.
In the outside world this would be dealt with through an official complaints process but, for a prisoner, that is near enough impossible. As I said, prisoners are not permitted to communicate directly with the OU and one guy I know tried to submit a complaint to them only to find that it either never got there, or was completely ignored. The prison’s own complaints procedure is available, but the problem isn’t with the prison but with the OU (they say). What’s more, the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education will not normally investigate a complaint unless the student has a letter from the university saying that they have exhausted the university’s own complaints procedure! There are exceptions, but the whole system makes it near enough impossible to put things right.
But then, prisons today are not particularly interested in higher education. They are all geared towards basic skills. As far as the Ministry of Justice is concerned, as long as you can read and count, they are happy. Why spend money on anything more? Even if it would increase employment prospects and bring down crime rates.