Inside the Kingston MA: the ‘mature student’ view

In our latest guest post, freelance writer and editor Peter Kenyon reflects on his motivations for enrolling on the MA Publishing, what the course delivered and how it should evolve in the future.

What on earth possesses a home-owning forty-something (42) father-of-one and ex-journalist to quit his job, raid the piggy bank, and enrol on a Publishing MA course?

I did wonder this myself as I rolled onto a Walton-upon-Thames campsite in the four-and-a-half tonne motor-caravan which would become “home” for the duration of my nine month course as a so-called “mature student” (a classic oxymoron if ever there was one) at Kingston University.

I would soon discover that about the time I was graduating from my BA in American Studies, Politics and Sociology in 1989 most of my fellow students at Kingston were graduating themselves – from nappies to pull-up pants (with a sparse smattering of already potty-trained exceptions).

But after twelve months at Kingston University I felt fully vindicated in my decision (and there were those who derided my becoming a “lazy, tax-dodging” student) to turn back to higher education as a way of, quite frankly, getting my career and my life back on track after a “decade disastribilus” of divorce, mortgage slavery, peripatetic living, maintenance wrangles, loss of career focus, lack of up-to-date training and out-of-date thinking.

It was the Publishing MA Open Day which proved crucial in my taking the plunge at Kingston – course leader Alison Baverstock’s positivity and passion for publishing was inspiring.

Rather than deriding me for slipping into a situation where I was relying on horsepower rather than brainpower to earn a living (I was a truck driver at the time) she commented on how this added a bit of a flourish to my CV.

The decision to choose publishing was mainly driven by my age and previous experience – it is a profession close enough to journalism to share similar skill requirements while at the same time offering new enough challenges to push my boundaries.

So why Kingston’s Publishing MA?

A crucial factor was the close links the university had clearly forged with real publishing professionals, and the importance the course placed upon work placements.

If there’s no job at the end of it, what’s the point, after all?

When I left Leicester University in 1989 the economy was booming, nobody gave a second thought to actually getting a job at the end of the academic process (perhaps because it was free, and included complimentary beer money for good measure!), and in any case media jobs were two-a-penny (I made one application and got a job on my local newspaper within a month of leaving).

Twenty years on and with the economy faltering, jobs hard to come by, and against a backdrop of escalating fees only those universities with courses which offer their prospective students value for money (which increasingly students will judge by the success ratio of getting last year’s intake into employment) will survive.

The modules offered at Kingston all taught practical, marketable skills and gave students a real feel for what they might expect in the competitive world of publishing. The tutors all boasted excellent non-academic publishing credentials, another big plus.

But the course does need to evolve at the same rapid pace as the industry it is preparing the next generation for – a big ask.

In an industry where so many jobs are being outsourced, and those few entry level jobs that there are attract a staggering 350 applications (according to one fellow student), care needs to be taken to offer the sort of business and IT skills one needs to work for oneself.

The publishing industry lacks digitally-savvy workers at just the time when much of its work requires digital skills. Editing is now done on-screen, apps and e-books are a growing area, and web publishing and authoring skills are increasingly seen as a must-have rather than a desirable-to-have.

Care must be taken to reflect these changing needs within the Kingston MA Publishing course structure…and it is interesting to note that the course was restructured for the 2011/12 intake, with a set of new modules now on offer.

For the mature student the higher education-to-work leap is even greater than it is for the twenty-somethings – and it is my suspicion that entry level publishing jobs (which the MA course seems geared towards) are out of reach to the more mature student as a result of “over-experience”, whilst the middle to higher ranking jobs require hands-on rather than academic experience.

So after 25 rejections for low-paid entry level jobs, and following my (not entirely successful) experiences as an intern, I decided the best way forward for me was to work for myself.

For this I have the opportunity I was given to work for Kingston University Press to thank.

The Publishing MA may not prove to be the direct launch pad into the industry that it has been for the younger students on the course, but what I have learned, has certainly helped signpost my more independent path into the profession.

Peter Kenyon won the ‘Best overall contributor’ prize in our annual Publishing MA awards.

He is now self-employed, having set up his own company, PK Editorial – based in Cheshire. He has just completed a freelance academic copy-editing assignment on a book about global advertising in the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, China and India (to be published later this year by Routledge), and also works two days a week as a Production Editor for a trade website.


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