About the University of East Anglia (UEA): Why you shouldn’t go

About the University of East Anglia (UEA): Why you shouldn’t go

In 2005 I made a mistake by studying abroad at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, England. The school was—and still could be—a study-abroad factory that marketed itself to foreign students because foreign students paid a lot more in tuition than English students. The school is consequently incentivized to pursue the international market. A friend and I were sufficiently peeved about the low quality of the school that we wrote an illustrated guide that warned our friends away from going to UEA.

Some recent discussion made me dig up “About UEA: What You Should Know Before You Go.” Reading it now, I see weaknesses in my skills as a nascent writer (I want to edit my younger self) but think the document might still be valuable for undergrads seeking UEA-related information. The photos convey some of the bleakness of that university; I remember the day I said, “Fuck it, I should put these journalism skills to use because I have to tell people about this” and went around campus to shoot them. By which point I realized I’d been conned by UEA’s marketing and that I should tell what the UEA experience is actually like.

Back then I didn’t have a blog—although I should have; I was writing a lot—so I only sent “About UEA” to other undergrads I knew who were prospective UEA students. Today, the combination of a blog and Google mean that “About UEA” could retain some value, which it definitely won’t on my hard drive. Perhaps I can save others from making my mistake.

That experience also informed “Europe, the United States, living standards, GDP, and the University of East Anglia (UEA),” and UEA also made me predisposed to believe Richard Posner’s comments about the shabbiness of England in the 1980s. From the perspective of Norwich in 2005, things hadn’t changed much.

Have they now? Maybe. I have no desire to find out firsthand. If you’re an American or Canadian student currently studying at UEA, however, you should leave a comment.

Before I went, I also noticed that my peers who studied abroad at UEA said they had a great time. After I came back, in more candid conversations, many of the same peers admitted to experiences much closer to mine. Culturally, I think we have a script that says study abroad must be a transformational, transcendental experience that changes everything about a person. It must be “fun” (and I put scare quotes around fun in a very Houellebecq way). It must be amazing. People who don’t have fun or don’t experience transcendence are viewed as defective or simply grumpy. Explaining what was wrong with UEA couldn’t happen in a casual conversation. The problems with it were obvious but weren’t acknowledged. This piece is an effort to rectify that silence.

EDIT: I’m pretty sure UEA administrators or PR people are monitoring the comment thread.

26 responses

  1. I’m a current third year student at UEA and lived in Victory House for the 2010/11 year. It was very modern and looked absolutely nothing like yours, which I assume was either norfolk or suffolk terrace given the shared toilets.

    Just a heads for people applying, the new ones are very nice in comparison to other ones I’ve seen.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Things just might have improved in the past 8 years.

        Waveney Terrace was demolished (you won’t be sad to learn).

        The University was ranked #1 for Student Satisfaction by The Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2013 and consistently ranks top in other student life ratings as well. [http://university.which.co.uk/university-of-east-anglia-uea-e14]

        Some other changes your avid readers might like to know about:
        UEA ranked in the Top 1% of World Universities (Times – London).
        UEA Top 20 in the UK (Guardian).
        Norwich named UNESCO City of Literature.

        It is a shame that you had such a negative experience, when so many other people have a wonderful time in this most complete of mediaeval cities and at UEA!

        (Oh, and I am a US ex-pat.)


    • Sorry what? I’m a current English student at UEA, and I think UEA is an awful university. I started this year, and Victory House is horrendous in comparison to the majority of UEA accom – considering I’m paying £128 a week. The kitchen literally looks like a prison. As it’s the newest building, you can tell they have purposely slacked on expenditure and built it in the cheapest possible way in order to create a bigger profit. We have one sink, no ovens, 2 microwaves and 4 hobs between 12 students. Plus 8 of them are non-English speaking internationals who won’t say a word to us, and when they do I genuinely can’t understand what they’re saying. My course is also bad, with all formative work being peer assessed (people in MY YEAR mark it), so obviously the feedback is completely pointless. If I hate the uni now I absolutely DREAD to think how horrific it was 8 years ago.


  2. Hi Jake (and the internet!) – I’m Rebecca Farnum, a 2012 Marshall Scholar (http://www.marshallscholarship.org/) finishing up an amazing year at the University of East Anglia studying for a MSc in Water Security and International Development.

    I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t have a great experience, especially since virtually all of my coursemates and the American and Canadian students I’m friends with are having a great time. One of my flatmates studied abroad here during her undergraduate years and loved it so much she came back for her Master’s in Scriptwriting…even though she lives in LA and was getting a lot of experience appearing in films and TV shows.

    UEA is regularly attracting Marshall and Fulbright Scholars now, signaling its strong scholarship – which is highly ranked by the Times and the Guardian. We recently were ranked #1 in the UK by The Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey for 2013; that survey included the many international students at UEA in the voting and review process.

    UEA is turned 50 this year. That means a lot of celebrations: John Rhys-Davies (Gimli from “Lord of the Rings”), Jack Davenport (Captain Norrington from “Pirates of the Caribbean”), Gurinder Chadha (director of “Bend it Like Beckham”) are all UEA alumni coming to Congregation this year to receive honorary doctorates. It also means that a lot of UEA’s campus was built in the 1960s…the era of concrete. Many of UEA’s buildings and infrastructure is concrete. I, for one, have become strangely enamored of the concrete…I think it really grows on you! But if it’s not for you, more and more gorgeous buildings are being added around and within the concrete. The campus has some 15 architecture awards, and the Sainsbury Centre is totally gorgeous (http://scva.org.uk/). UEA is starting work on a new “green” residence that is going to be super low-energy (http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2012/November/new-green-accommodation).

    All in all…I truly do not recognize the UEA you’re talking about in this post or in the article you wrote (nor do I recognize most of the pictures – campus has changed quite a lot!). Of course, UEA isn’t perfect – no university is. And of course, UEA isn’t for everybody – no university is. But I’ve had a wonderful time, and it’s definitely been the university for me!

    To students considering study abroad, postgraduate study, etc. in the UK, I would say: Definitely read articles and posts like Jake’s. They are perspectives and experiences that are good to know about. But also read positive reviews – check out blogs like callmebex.blogspot.com (my blog) and uea-notesfromnorfolk.blogspot.co.uk/ (a blog run by the International Student Ambassadors at UEA – written honestly and without review by UEA staff members). Perspective students should also know that UEA has an American student on staff to answer questions about the university – you can always email americanstudents@uea.ac.uk with questions and concerns – a current student will get back to you with honest opinions!


    • I have to agree with Becca that if things were as bad for everyone as they were for you, things have definitely gotten better.

      I studied abroad this entire year at UEA, from my home school in San Francisco, and can honestly say, 1) It has been one of the best experiences and funnest times of my life, 2) I learned more than I have in years of other schools(could be my maturing, as well), 3) the school and faculty are way more interested in helping you grow, reach your goals and succeed and also connect you with people and work and internships in your area of study/career, than either of the two community colleges I’ve attended, or the private university I attended, 4) the students are great, friendly and super fun! I made more friends than normal in the US and many of them were Chinese (although I did see that closed circle mentality many times) and 5) while many of the housing on campus were less than desirable to my personal lifestyle, many are great and clean, modern and private: you get what you pay for, as with every aspect of life.

      On that last point, I would say UEA could definitely be more helpful and informative to prospective study abroad students in figuring out what kind of room you want. because I would have been miserable in the living situation you were in, and I have many friends who were in those same dorms (looks like suffolk terrace or norfolk terrace), some loved it, some hated it. But I also had many friends (and myself) who lived in housing with only 4 flatmates to share a kitchen and 2 bathrooms and located on the river in the beautiful city center. Aside from being the cheapest option, it has the coolest location. Additionally, I knew people who lived on campus in luxurious rooms with private bathrooms, others sharing a two bedroom apartment with only one person, and still others who found their own private housing, for cheaper and more options than living in UEA housing.

      I agree that UEA should be more helpful in what you are getting into though, however, i know many people who changed their flat within the first month, with no penalty, because they didn’t like it, or their personal situation changed. No one is stuck.

      And I have to say, although at first I found all the cement and rain quite bleak, the rain is England! and outside of the main quad is the lake and forest and tons of beautiful areas. I had a much better experience here than at the private university I previously attended which was incredibly beautiful and had very small classes, but was very expensive and elitist.

      At UEA, everyone has access to everything from team sports to creative writing societies. By the way, I learned more from my twice a week meeting Creative Writing Society than I have at any school in my life. I was elected into the committee of the film society and also became a member of the filmmaking society. I’ve never seen a school with so many opportunities to learn, network and make friends/socialize.

      All in all, I learned a ton and made life long friends and career connections. I am applying to return for my masters. There are probably much more beautiful unis and probably many where one can get the same experience or maybe even better, but UEA is definitely a great school!

      I’m so sorry you had such a crappy experience. I hope everything since has been great, and thanks for opening up this conversation. I hope all is going great for you with your writing, as well!!



    • From my experience over the last year, I can easily see why UEA would gain that ranking.

      I have heard the student housing has improved quite a bit, so that sucks if it was really bad before. However, living in UEA student accommodations is one small part of the overall experience, and it is optional, no one has to live on campus. I lived in 3 different places while there, do to my own personal situation, and I liked them all!

      I heard of friends having some problems like exploding radiator heaters and soaked carpets, etc, but they were very few and also happened to friends from Cinema City who lived in private residences.


  3. I’m a current UEA student in Becca Farnum’s cohort, and one of the North Americans she mentioned she studies with.

    I, as well as many other North America students, do not share Becca’s glowing opinion of UEA (including a recipient of one of the prestigious scholarships she mentions UEA to be attracting, which Becca has been made aware of by him), and many of us have been taking our concerns, complaints, and advice on changes in a systematic way to various module organisers. Candidly, more than half of the lecturers I’ve spoken to on this subject have conceded that they agree with the concerns being voiced, but feel pressured to cater to different expectations from other international students who prefer lecture and regurgitation over more in-depth analysis seminar styles — even the seminars at UEA are very structured and do not encourage long discussion and debate. In terms of educational quality, many students coming from North American undergraduate experiences were under-stimulated and disappointed. UEA is known as an excellent research university, which I’m sure it is; but an excellent research university does not equal an excellent teaching university.

    It should also be noted that Becca has worked for the past year as an employee of the University of East Anglia in the North American office, and has enjoyed fully paid travel to the US by the university specifically to recruit American students to study at UEA. While I do not doubt that she was satisfied with her experience at UEA, I’m disappointed that she has written her comment as merely a “happy student” without disclosing these conflicts of interest.


  4. …and a simple Google search of the above poster, Anne-Marie, who also wrote a glowing review of UEA in this thread, will lead to the “Admissions, Recruitment and Marketing” arm of the university, where, according to the information made public on her LinkedIn profile, she has worked since 2007.


    • OUCH!! That may all be true, or not, I’ve no Idea. But a simple google search of my name will reveal a lowly film student who happened to stumble upon a foreign exchange program. Even if there is hard core student outreach, I never got it and I loved my time at UEA for what it was!

      As far as teaching style, I’d say I experienced both. One module was very lecture based and extremely boring. But only that one. Others were very in depth and more discussion based than anything else, and one module was so cutting edge and experimental, that in conversations a week ago with a professor here at home, he asked me to share the syllabus and study materials, because he’s interested in doing something similar.

      Aren’t all University’s a mixture of good and bad? I mean, we aren’t talking Oxbridge or the Ivy League here.

      However, like I said, I reached out and networked and joined all I could handle while I was there, as well as finding a job(which took 3 months) where I met wonderful friends and made more connections for life and career. I think it comes down to being what you make of it, just like everything else in life. I should also be honest and divulge that I am a “mature student”. I am older than the average university student, and life experience had already shown me these things, so when I arrived at UEA, I was determined to experience everything possible and soak up as much as I could. That is a great lesson for all you youngins, though. :P


      • Of course there is good and bad in every university – including Oxbridge and Ivy League. UEA, as everything in life, is absolutely what you make of it. I also took the opportunity to network, be involved in a wide variety of initiatives, in and off campus, as I have always done and will always do no matter where I am or what institution I’m affiliated with. The past year has been filled with meeting great people (including some of my lecturers), pushing my boundaries, and personal growth.

        Individual positive attitudes which lead to overall positive experiences, though, don’t mean that shortfalls of the academic programme shouldn’t be addressed.

        My comment was in particular on the quality and content of my modules, and on thorough discussions with a number of my fellow students on the quality and content of their modules.

        Of course there will be positive and negative experiences, and this comes from our differing undergraduate institutions, different expectations of what education is and should be, and of course, different fields of study (maybe UEA has more creative and effective teaching in the ARTS department).

        This isn’t a debate, this is a forum on which to voice our different experiences so that prospective students can make informed decisions.


      • I agree wholeheartedly that academic pitfalls should be discussed. It’s your approach to this discussion that turned me off to your comments. Maybe this wasn’t your intent but it seemed like you were launching some kind of personal crusade against Becca and Anne-Marie behind the safety of an anonymous keyboard. Also, though you have spoken to many other students in your department I think it’s a little unfair for you to speak for them in a discussion like this, particularly the other scholar. It’s not at all difficult to find out who you are speaking about since the scholars are pretty visible. If they are unhappy with their academic experience then that is something that should be discussed but, personally, I don’t think you should be making broad generalizations about the opinions of your cohorts on a forum like this which will possibly be seen by potential future students because I’m sure what you say about their opinions is colored by your own negative experience in your modules. Maybe instead of spending your time on here speaking for other students and disparaging people like Becca and Anne-Marie for just offering an opinion (because I personally don’t believe that there was a deceitful nature to their comments) it would be more beneficial to round up these students and go to your school with your complaints. I’m sure the administration would be willing to listen.


      • As I stated in my original comment, several of us have indeed taken feedback about our UEA experiences to various module and course organisers. I’m spending my time here, in addition to having approached faculty at the university, because this is a forum where potential students might search for advice that does not come from the university marketing department. I do fully believe that people who receive paychecks / perks by the institution they are praising on a forum such as this one should divulge that connection.

        Regarding speaking on behalf of others,my biggest motivation for replying to this thread was Becca’s statement that “virtually all of my coursemates and the American and Canadian students I’m friends with are having a great time”; her use of the attendance of scholars at UEA was seems intended to lead the reader to believe that other scholars are as happy as she has been. You are right, Audrey, that neither I nor Becca should not be speaking for others, nor for other scholars.

        My comments are not intended as a personal attack, and I’m sorry if anyone is personally offended. But I do stand by my comments.


      • Not to nitpick but, she said that they were having a great time in general. I’m not excusing her speaking on behalf of people since I called you out for doing the same thing but there is a difference between her saying that people are having a great time and you zeroing in on her seemingly stating that other people in your cohort have expressed satisfaction with their education. She didn’t say that at all in her original post. In all fairness, she could have been speaking to them liking to go out partying or joining organizations or anything other than classes. Even you have said that you’ve met great people and have had the chance to push yourself. That could be understood by some as you having a great time. All I’m saying is that, upon closer reading, Becca never made a statement about the satisfaction of other students in the DEV school specifically in terms of academics but that seems to be what you wrongfully accused her of.


      • Audrey, my comment was that Becca was speaking on behalf of others in general, and that this is what prompted me to reply; my aim was to specifically clarify that her statement may not be the case for the academic side of the university (which is why my comment was specific to that topic).

        Unless there’s something more substantial to say on the topic, maybe it’s time to drop this, as I’m sure it’s not what people have come here to read.


  5. Wow. Lots of UEA hate going on. I’m going to have to mirror a lot of what Peter has said. I’m a student from the States doing a literature MA and have absolutely no connections with the university other than that of a student (to avoid any digging that needs to be done about my potential conflicts of interest). I can’t speak to the experience of Dev students but I, for one, have loved my program. My classes have been very small and I’ve felt challenged every step of the way. None of my courses have been lecture-based which has been wonderful. I e-mailed a professor with questions when I was deciding between the four UK schools that accepted me and he was nice enough to e-mail me back as well as forward my e-mail to the head of my school who also e-mailed me. This willingness to speak to prospective students was one of the reasons I chose UEA. If there’s one complaint (and I can’t even call it that) that I have about my degree it’s that we weren’t really pushed or encouraged to participate in conferences or present papers but I find that to be a small issue considering how much I’ve learned over the last year academically and about how far I’m able to push myself. Please, for students considering programs outside of Dev (since that’s the one that has been disparaged the most in the comments), don’t let these comments color your decision too much. UEA has an incredible creative writing program and I was lucky to be able to take one of their courses. Plus, they have a really well-respected literary festival and I would recommend that every student go see at least one of the visiting authors speak. It’s another reason that I chose this university. They really value the arts, particularly literature, in a way that a lot of schools don’t.

    Yes, there is a lot of concrete on campus and it does have a very industrial appearance at first but once you step away from the main buildings you see a beautiful lake and great walking trails. As other people have been mentioned, there has been a big push recently to update the campus. I would like to reiterate the point that the building that Jake stayed in and posted pictures of has been demolished. And, staying in University housing is not necessary. I know that the Creative Writing school put all of their MA students in contact with each other so that they could arrange to live together if they want. Some of them did and I feel safe saying that it worked out well for them. I’ve been to a few of their parties. Great times, let me tell you. Plus, Norwich is wonderful. I’ve been lucky enough to live in the city center accommodation and it’s been the better than I could have hoped. We’re given a flat with a proper kitchen and dining area, two bathroom, and a shower all to share with 4 other people. The town is so nice and I immediately felt at home here. I’m actually insanely upset about leaving. I feel like I’m leaving my home instead of going home. It’s so charming and people are so friendly. There isn’t anything about it that I don’t like. Norfolk in general is cool. The little coastal towns like Sheringham and Cromer are great, renting a boat to drive on the Norfolk Broads is a lot of fun, there’s an old steam locomotive you can ride between towns, and there are some great parks like the Thetford Forest or Brandon Country Park.

    The experience of studying abroad for a semester/year or doing a degree over here will be whatever you make it. Is everything going to be perfect? No. Most things in life aren’t. I fully support reading experiences like Jake’s because it’s important to get a well-rounded view of what you could be going into but make sure that all of the information you’re getting is up-to-date and applicable to the program or housing situation that you’ll be participating in. UEA, for me, was a great decision and I’ll sincerely miss Norwich and the people I’ve met here.


  6. Hmm, still wondering why anonymous is calling out people by name and putting personal info online, all the while enjoying the safety of anonymity. And where my post asking (him or her) about this, went. The rest of us are all showing our names and who we are, and in my opinion, being much more relaxed and open about the discussion.


    • Peter, both Becca and Anne-Marie chose to use their full names on this forum, and the information about them in my original comments is public, not private, and has been made public online by both posters themselves before this. Anonymity online is a decision that many people choose to make for a variety of reasons, and I would ask you to repsect my decision. Again, unless you have something more substantial to say on this, perhaps it’s time to drop it.


  7. anonymous, I respect everyone’s decision to anonymity. Always. What I don’t respect is attacking people in a public forum, posting personal information about them, whether or not THEY themselves chose to make it public in this forum or any other, while hiding behind one’s “own good reasons” for not standing behind their aggression. People with reasons, as good as they are, for remaining anonymous, should not anonymously be chastising others for not fully disclosing every detail of their life that the anonymous person deems appropriate. It’s also ironic that anonymous posters, cannot let a single comment slide without a scathing rebuttal (and telling me to shut up). So much easier when no one knows anything about you. Now that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject. This should be enough for any normal thinker reading. PS, dear readers, who is it that seems to not be able to let it go? yeah, maybe its time to drop it. Or does it always have to be someone else? bet that’s not the first time you’ve heard that.


  8. Pingback: Broadband, sports! go sports!, dirty writers, illiberalism, human flourishing, and more! « The Story's Story

  9. I was a student studying abroad at UEA in the spring of 2006 and I remember it as being one of the best times in my life. I was also placed at the much beleaguered Waveney Terrace and spent many long hours scouring the kitchen to make sure it was clean enough to cook the meals I had to prepare with groceries bought at the Tesco gas station just half a mile down the road. The bathrooms were horrific, I’m surprised no one came down with meningitis while I was there. HOWEVER, despite all of these things, the experience I had at UEA was memorable and pleasant, specifically because I took the time to pull myself out of my spoiled Americanized sense of what higher education is supposed to be (I too graduated from a private university in Southern California) and embraced the “student’ lifestyle that the rest of the world understands. The “country club” mentality of higher education in the United States is part of the reason that college tuition has become so obscenely high. Education in England and most of Europe is free. Which means you don’t have fancy commissaries with foods to fit everyone’s specific allergy or intolerance or state of the art recreational facilities or a preponderance of “single” rooms so that you don’t have to learn what it’s like to share a space with another person. I agree with some of your statements about the campus being a little run down and charmless, but the students that I became friends with were engaging, intelligent, fun and welcoming people. The friendships developed during that time have lasted for ten years and hopefully will continue for many more. I have even made a trip back to Norwich since graduating from college. As for the classes, I took three courses there, one one the future of the European Union, one on Modern Spain, and another on Jacobethan England. All three were on par with the classes I was taking at my private liberal arts university back home and I found the students to be much more informed about global issues and willing to engage in fruitful classroom discussions. I am sorry you had such a negative experience, but I do think it has a lot to do with your view through the lens of American higher education expectations.


  10. I was there 1987-90 (Env Science). Thought the Uni in general was very good but was in Waveney Terrace in the first year – what a dump! Apparently it’s gone now.


  11. I was at UEA from ’82-85 and lived in Waveney. Maybe I didn’t grow up with the right privileges, but I thought it was fine, and still would, despite the very comfortable life I now enjoy. And yes, I’ve experienced US post graduate education and it’s prices as well, and frankly, it doesn’t compare in value terms, even though the standards of facilities are great – until you have to pay for them. You have the whole of your life to enjoy ensuite facilities, controlling your domain, this was a chance to learn something else. I loved the attitude of the UEA profs precisely because they didn’t spoon feed you – two of our three US exchange students didn’t seem able to cope with this lack of enforced discipline and often cut class, but I found that if you made a real effort to engage, you’d get it back in spades – and by the way, the Oxford system is this on steroids. At the same time, if you didn’t show up or contribute the extra, well, it was your time and money and you were free to choose how you used it.
    In the ’80’s the gap between the US and UK in material terms was vast, so I understand the shock, but there was so much else beneath that superficial skin – this is not about which was better, but an opportunity to experience and appreciate something different – which is what actually living abroad (as opposed to being a tourist) is really about


  12. Pingback: A Ladder to the Sky — John Boyle « The Story's Story

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: