Scroll down to 'The verdict' if it's too much to read!
I spent 2 years studying at The Arts Institute at Bournemouth (now known as The Arts University College at Bournemouth) and a further 1 year at Birmingham City University. Each year had its own flavor, from a sunny but intense and dramatic first year studying Costume, to the relief of transferring to a Fashion course and then onto the final lap, making a whole heap of new friends in Brum.
The Arts University College at Bournemouth
Bournemouth is a wonderful town, full of colour, variety and art. There is a certain 'Bournemouth look' to the young people to seem to have their own version of 'cool' that you only find down south by the sea. I loved moving out into a house in the student area, and quickly got used to my independence. The course, however, was haaard. In a good way. I think... We were in uni most days, had a register, and had plenty of practical work and notes to keep up with. Intense but good, anyone who survives that course will become a well seasoned, well experienced costume designer/maker. The problem was, even though I put so much into being accepted there, I lost heart for costume and wanted to focus on contemporary pattern cutting.
So I switched. Second year brought me more freedom. I lived with some great girls who were totally organised and it did me some good. The course provided pattern cutting lessons, step by step practical tailoring lessons, and self initative in design, to draw the way we liked and explore. Probably couldn't fault the course except that it didn't have a direct thrid year available, and the 'lessons' for essay writing were less than helpful.
Bournemouth has a well organised campus, a purpose built library (lacking in toilets and doesn't stay open long enough) an enterprise building to support graduates and new business ventures, and a student services centre that accept card payments! Everything is in one place, with areas of grass to hang out, an arts bar and a (too small) cafeteria.
The motto is 'Work hard party harder' which seems to be true for most students. Often there would be events running alongside tight deadlines, DJs playing outside and a BBQ cooking, whilst we are sewing our final collection! Every course seems to be just as intense, so most students lack sleep.
Overall a great arty place to be, if you are self motivated, disciplined and know what you want from life and from the uni experience.
I'm sure Bournemouth has great industry links, I know many students have gone on to do great things once graduating. Two costumers worked on The Kings Speech. One fashion graduate won Norway's 'Project Runway'. However, for me, I didn't feel support in this way. Our course ended after 2 years with the choice to top it up, or leave it as it was: FdA Fashion Degree.
I went out to find my own work experience which I still believe taught me more in 6 weeks than uni taught me in 2 years. Thats not to be harsh on uni - but complimentary of the important of industry experience.
Bournemouth's fashion course did ground me in commercial fashion, which helped my decisions in 3rd year at Birmingham...
Birmingham City University
May I first tell you my bemusement when I saw BCU's library.. The size of a postage stamp! Sorry Birmingham, but that is something you need to work on here!
I choose a 'proper uni' over another arts institute as i wanted 24 hour facilities, a larger work area, larger group of friends, and a different experience. My main problem with Birmingham is that there is no grass. Nevermind it lacking in seaside, some lovely place to chill at lunchtime would be great, instead we had a cold canteen area - the main doors led straight to this area, causing it to be freezing during the winter, and this being the only place to hang out. A massive bonus to the uni is the art shop. This asset dwarfs Bournemouth, who only had an art sale once a month. This shop had all the materials we needed including toiling fabric and much needed chocolate!
We worked in an art block, separate to all the other subjects - hence why the library is probably so small. I have Wolverhampton uni to thank for my dissertation research, whose library is a 4 story atrium abundant in books and resources, and hardly anyone in the fashion section that I needed.
I mustn't be too hard on Birmingham's campus though, as I have heard some whisperings on a new campus at millennium point.
My first encounter at Birmingham set me up to realise the reputation of the course. I was early on the first day and waiting outside the lecture theatre for 15mins, at which point a trickle of 4 other appeared, discussing what time we were supposed to be there. Another 30mins later there were about 16 of us, when a tutor arrived and said the meeting was in yet another 30mins time. Wah!
I love being prompt and on time and I'm afraid there were too many times when meetings were postponed or cancelled, which annoyed me as it was a 1 1/2 hour commute to B'ham for me. This was by no means the tutors fault (I got on very well with Lee and Nathan) but down to having too many students in one year for the amount of staff available. I also had to wait 2 weeks to get some sewing help from the technician as she was just too overloaded, in Bournemouth the max wait would be 2 hours, but we are comparing a class of 35 (B'mouth) to a class of 120 (B'ham) so of course there will be more strains and upsets in the bigger class.
It would be unfair to compare the two universities in terms of career as I did a different level of course, and have only just gotton to interview stage at the moment.
However, Birmingham offers a unique pathway for students who want to make themselves employable. It is called: 'Negotiated brief'. Most final year students create a collection that they hope to show at Graduate Fashion week, however, only 12 students from B'mouth or B'ham are picked for this opportunity, therefore causing some disappointment for other students. Birmingham worked out another option. Instead of making a full collection, I made only 3 outfits, then spent the rest of my time working on my portfolio, and a number fo projects to feature in it. This was then exhibited at GFW, where a number of companies saw it and contacted me. What else does a graduate need? Birmingham City uni worked the timetable in such a way that the ones not being featured on the catwalk could still stand a very good chance in inductry.
Oh and I won an award at BCU for most employable student across Art and Design (called BEST award).. So perhaps I could compare the 2 institutions on this occasion and tip BCU ahead of AUCB?
Bournemouth is a community of artisans, designers and bohemians. The campus is ideal, always improving, moving forward and is inspiring. The work on the walls is current, and the library is tidy and quiet. If you know what you want, if you can self direct and survive a few years of sleep depravation then Bournemouth is for you. It is a place like no other.
For best results: Do a short course, live in Winton, next to the high street: 5mins from shops, 15mins from uni, 30 mins from the sea. Get to know someone who can play guitar. Perfect.
Birmingham uni is big, more grungy and in the heart of the second biggest city in the UK. It is surrounded by big grey buildings, commuters who wish they were in London - not to mention a load of people who don't smile. It did give me, however, the best year of my uni life. I was challenged, forced to do things I wouldn't normally do, and the lack of social occasions to be distracted by severely increased the amount of time i could spend studying and working. The tutors are honest and experienced, we did hear the faculty moan about the lack of money (so we couldn't have a fashion show) but at least there was no pretense or cover-up.
For best results: Live in Wolverhampton so you can use the library there instead. Decide to ignore the banter between the other 100 people in your class. Aim for a first because it is possible.
- Why I chose Bournemouth: Impressive showreel and final show exhibition. Great vibe.
- Why I chose Birmingham: Big city, competitive class of students, range of course pathway options and GFW opportunity.
- To improve Bournemouth: Larger classroom with a separate sewing room (noise reduction) Facilities should stay open for longer into the evening and they need an art shop. More tutorials.
- To improve Birmingham: A designated 3rd year room - space to ourselves. A warm canteen and about 3 more technicians. Tutorials with time slots to minimize time spent waiting around.
- Library: Bournemouth
- Events: Bournemouth
- Facilities: Bournemouth
- Tutorials: Birmingham
- Art Supplies: Birmingham
- City centre: Birmingham: shops, Bournemouth - sea
- Public transport: B'mouth for buses/local, B'ham for trains
- Friends/connections/networking: Birmingham
- Accommodation options: Birmingham
- Canteen: Neither! The both need work!
- Trips/visits: Bournemouth
- Faculty office/student services: Birmingham
- Vibe: Bournemouth
- Cultural: Both