Access to Higher Education, Student Experience, Student Stories, Widening Participation

SO? By ex-Go Higher student & current tutor, Barbara Milne

So, we’re on the middle day of Go Higher induction week, here at the University of Liverpool. ‘So’ seems an apt word for today. Any initial nervousness, on all sides, I think, has abated a little and our new students have settled down to some group work. So, why am I so hung up on this word “So”?    It’s nostalgia if I’m honest. I’m a former Go Higher student. One of the narratives I was lucky enough to study during my time on the course, was Seamus Heaney’s translation of the epic poem Beowulf.

In Heaney’s narrative, the opening line goes like this “So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by”. Back then, we each took turns reading out part of the text.  ‘So’, said our lecturer, ‘tell me about “So.”’. We all went very quiet. We did start talking though and by the end of the session, ideas, enough to fill an entire whiteboard, were rattling around. Not only was this fun, it was also enlightening, the whole experience totally unexpected. We were encouraged to say exactly what we thought, nothing was dismissed, this encouragement, for me, as a person who really did lack confidence, served as a strong anchor which I still hold on to.

It struck me this morning that expectation, perhaps the ‘So.’ embedded within the Go Higher experience, might resonate through the coming academic year. How could we, back in my days as a Go Higher student, make any cohesive sense of what we were being asked to do? How might a word, followed by a full stop make sense? I mean, ‘Aren’t sentences supposed to have a subject, verb, and an object?’ What’s going on!? – I thought…

‘What’s going on?’ encapsulates, for me, the organic nature of Go Higher. A combustion of ideas (I’m thinking here ‘light-bulb’ moments)  bubbling under the surface, those times when things don’t seem to make any obvious  connection or impact  …then …something happens. What happens? You find yourself thinking ‘outside the box’. You’ll perhaps read books, journal articles, newspapers, watch TV, listen to the radio, or scroll through Social Media, something might catch your eye…you agree or disagree and begin to develop an argument supporting your point of view.

Thinking of the months ahead, if I was an interviewee on the BBC Radio 4 breakfast programme, and one of the presenters, let’s say Sarah Montague, was grilling me about our course, I might preface my answer(s) with the word ‘So’. I’d then go on to name some of the, what shall I call them? happenings, (this list is not by any means  exhaustive) : meeting people; having an awareness of the support structures in place ;  getting to grips with the conventions of university life ; developing new skills; becoming an independent learner ; progressing through the three stages of the programme and along the way gaining confidence.

I have to fess up here (now that I’m about to leave the keyboard) to say that when I hear someone on the TV or radio prefacing their response to a question with ‘So’, it does grate! In the context of writing about Go Higher, though, I’d still put a strong argument for the use of it being apt.

After Go Higher, Barbara completed a degree in English at the University of Liverpool. She is now part of the Go Higher teaching support team.
(Image below: William Morris’s Beowulf manuscript from Cambridge University Library)


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