During my time studying in New Zealand so far I’ve discovered that whilst the way university works is reasonably similar to the UK there are also quite a few differences, which I’m going to talk about in this post. Obviously this is heavily based on my own personal experiences of studying Geology at Leicester and Canterbury, but I’ll try to add in a more general overview as much as I can.
Courses (the equivalent of modules) here are assessed in more ways than they are back in Leicester. Most of the geology modules I did at Leicester during my first 2 years were heavily weighted towards the final exam which usually contributes 70-100% of the module mark, apart from a handful of modules which are 100% coursework or fieldwork. At Canterbury, the exams make up a much lower percentage of the final mark. This semester 3 out of the 4 courses I’ve taken have final exams worth 40% whilst the other course is entirely assessed by weekly homework assignments, a research project and presentation. The other 60% of the course mark for each of the 3 courses comes from a combination of tests, assignments and/or completing work from labs throughout the term. For one course I’m taking 5% of the mark comes from participating in small in-class exercises during lectures which are handed in at the end of the lecture, so you basically get marks for turning up and participating.
Having exams which are worth a lower percentage of the overall mark has its advantages and disadvantages. I imagine it will be a bit of a relief in a few weeks when exams come around because knowing that I’ve already got marks in the bag will take the pressure off a bit. However, over the last couple of weeks as the end of lectures for the semester draws closer it means I’ve had quite a few assignments with deadlines around the same time and finding the time to work on them all at once has been a bit of a challenge. Thankfully I’ve handed them all in now so I can relax a bit!
Whilst at Leicester most students are just doing one subject and following a fairly similar set of modules to others on the same course, in New Zealand there’s a lot more flexibility to take a wider range of subjects and lots of students seem to be doing joint degrees in more than one discipline. The University of Leicester have recently introduced Major/Minor Degrees which are more similar to this structure, letting you study more than one subject.
The number of contact hours per week for each course is slightly lower than at Leicester. This semester I’ve had 12-15 timetabled contact hours per week whereas during my first 2 years at Leicester it was more like 15-20. This means more time to spend on coursework, which is good as there’s more of it, but it also means I have more time to go out and see New Zealand which is a bonus!
In terms of what my contact time is made up of, its fairly similar to back in Leicester, with time split roughly half and half between lectures and labs (called practicals at Leicester). Lectures here are pretty much the same as at Leicester, however for one of my courses they are more interactive, with multiple choice questions and assessed exercises during the lecture. Labs pretty much follow the same format as practicals in Leicester with a set of exercises to work through with lecturers and postgraduate students available to answer questions.
And finally, when I arrived in Christchurch I was surprised to discover that skateboarding is up there with walking and cycling (which I am more used to as ways to get to lectures) as one of the most popular methods of getting around campus. It took me a few weeks at the start of term to remember to keep an eye out for skateboarders whizzing past in all directions and to get used to seeing skateboards lined up along the wall next to the door of the lecture theatre!
I hope I’ve given you a bit of an insight into how university life in New Zealand differs from the UK. If you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment.