So it has been rather quick: I have concluded my business with the University of York for now. It is nearly the end of road for Eboracum. The end result was more scared than hurt: I managed to scrape together the requirements for the best possible line they could award to me on the piece of paper, crossing it by nothing but a small amount behind the decimal point. However, I managed it, so all is well.
One of the few things coming out of this tiny achievement is that I can be slightly critical of my now alma mater without sounding too much like harangue from someone who did not work up to the expectations of their degree, in a hopefully constructive way. All of these are of course over my limited understanding of the institution as a student -- your experience may vary.
Before any of these, however, I should point out that the vast majority of my experience doing this degree have been generally positive, which is way beyond the average I should be expecting living out the next decades of my life. The "Russell Group" name badge does seem to imply that mildly infuriating matters are mostly out of your way as a student. A lot of great teaching staff dwarfing the lesser; the IT Services was great (high availability, performance, and quality service); a real effort has been made by the Careers Service; my department did care about student experience and had done what they could against resource constraints and bureaucracy to improve the experience; and so on.
However, there were less impressive things -- more familiar to me when they are associated with my department -- that I never mentioned to visiting applicants (I was paid to not talk about them, a great arrangement).
A small disappointment is that my (most recent) college ended up on my degree certificate, in a large font immediately beneath my name. I find it pretentious to make colleges appear more important than they really were. I changed college half way through my degree due to moving into a different college's campus accommodation. Apart from some fun activities, both colleges contributed next to nothing to my academic experience, and the requirement of having college affiliation switched when one moves into a different college's accommodation makes the identify of the college even less significant. I do not feel that the college affiliation was worthy enough to appear on a York degree certificate.
A greater criticism is on the university's constant hunger for expansion and the means through which they sate the hunger. Constructions have been happening non-stop on both campuses, developments of which mostly serving an increased student number for more money, causing endless nuisance and disruptions to students who have already paid their tuition (and for some, accommodation) fees, and make the campuses look less impressive to those who need to make their mind up. In an extreme case, one side of an entire accommodation building was nose-to-nose to a building site meters away, with concrete pouring sessions running throughout term time. With the increased domestic tuition fee, Brexit, and a shrinking UK economy, it seems way too optimistic to expect ever-increasing numbers of UK, EU, and overseas students, as the situation is not looking great to any one of the categories. A long term plan to recruit more students cause falling admissions standards (personally I have talked to many taught Masters students whose English language skills were way beneath admissible standards of a "Russell Group" university); nuisance from construction of new facilities to house more students; as well as a further devaluation of worthiness of a York degree. More students certainly bring in additional short-term revenue; but I do not think that the senior leadership of the university consider the long-term impact seriously enough.
Another criticism I would raise -- this time about my department in particular -- is the dominance of research groups on the experience of taught students. Each of the research groups generally host one or more personal chairs, as well as a slew of other academic and research staff, research and project students. While the primary duties of research groups are for the greater good of academic research, it is very disappointing that student complaints related to experience of later years tend to originate from the rigidness of research groups. There are two main ways research groups affect taught students: module options and projects. In the first case, each research group require teaching hours to fulfil duties required on their academic staff. While most if not all of them are great researchers, a small but significant amount of them were less imposing when trying to deliver specialised knowledge to upper year undergraduates. This has been a source of recurring student complaints which the department acknowledges but cannot do much about.
The problem with projects is a reflection of something more troubling to the department: short-sighted resource allocation. For many years, the Department of Computer Science have largely overlooked the field of cryptography and security, to the point of losing their best staff in the field to Sheffield, who was half a year into his appointment as Head of Department. With the impending departure of another academic staff, they were entirely devoid of staff in this field, all while the accreditation bodies demanding more input from this field into the degree programs. In an unprecedented fashion, the department had to hire three academic staff from this same field to make up the loss. For me, this was late enough to leave me a permanent disappointment of not having been able to do a crypto project with my first degree, but might not be too late for others. Plus, it always leaves open the possibility to come back to do a PhD now they do have staff, so I applaud for finally seeing the improvements.
I think it is reasonable to argue that large institutions are inherently ill, and I would not expect any better in my next destination. However, some of them do try to take the right medicine for their symptoms. I would say that York has the right medicine, they just need to take it on time.