Monday, 30 January 2012

UCAS


The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is the body which manages applications to, as it says, universities and colleges in the UK. Its abbreviation, pronounced 'YOU-cass', has become a noun. 'Have you done your UCAS yet?' translates as 'have you completed the on-line application process through UCAS?'

At the moment it feels as if we're living with UCAS, and have been since last year when our daughter's school started preparing students and parents for the rigours of the application process. If she had been applying for entry in September/October 2012 to medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, veterinary science, Oxford or Cambridge, the on-line application would have been completed by 15 October 2011. These courses are under extremely high pressure from applicants, often involve additional entrance tests, and most have interviews as part of the selection process.

Since our daughter is firmly on the humanities side, the deadline in her case was 15 January 2012. However there is 'strong encouragement' at her school to have applications in well before the deadline, so since November it's been a case of watching email and the UCAS on-line tracking system for replies from her 5 choices. That's the maximum number of places you can apply to in your initial application. There's the possibility to go into an extra round of application if the initial one is unsuccessful, and finally a Clearing process when the summer exam results come out that matches applicants with no places with universities which still have vacancies. Within that there are further restrictions, such as only one of Oxford or Cambridge in any one year, and only four choices for medicine, vet, dentistry or vet science in any one year. So far 3 of daughter's choices have made her an offer: 2 unconditional offers from Scottish universities, where she doesn't have to get any further qualifications, and a conditional offer from an English university. Still awaited - decisions from an English and a Scottish university.The difference in the offers in a nutshell is because Scottish university degrees are normally 4 years long, and English ones 3 years. Scottish degrees also, in the main, have a broader base in the first and sometimes second year, where students take other subjects alongside their intended final specialisation. Scottish applicants can gain the entry requirements to Scottish universities on the basis of the Highers exams they take at the end of their 5th year at school. The rest of the UK takes A levels at the end of their 6th and last year at school. This is a very small nutshell - the whole issue of parity of entrance qualifications would take me several posts to work through.

As well as different entry grades, there's now the issue of different costs to be considered. Tuition is free for Scottish students attending a Scottish university. If they go to England, they will pay £9,000 a year for tuition (a few places charge slightly less), which is what English students studying in England pay. If an English student comes to university in Scotland they will pay fees - the £9,000 or whatever it is the university is charging. Keeping up? However, if a student from the European Union comes to a Scottish university they will pay no fees, as that is held to be discriminatory by the EU.

If you want to find out more about the wonderful world of UCAS (and it is an impressive set-up), have a look at their website at www.ucas.com. Meanwhile keep your fingers crossed for us!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Alternative Burns' Night


Last-minute planning of traditional Burns' Night fare was not a good idea today. Not on a Burns' Night when Scotland's First Minister made another carefully timed speech tugging at the independence heartstrings of the nation. Certainly the Scottish National Party is leaving no national symbol unexploited as it seeks independence for Scotland. Above, the 'haggis chill cabinet' in our local Tesco on Saturday. The tartan swathing is new to Tesco's display this year. As the independence debate ramps up, so does the tartan. By 2014, the proposed date for a referendum on independence, we will be drowning in it.

By 5.30 tonight the haggis had sold out. Even that mostly unloved stalwart of Scottish cuisine, the neep, had disappeared.



So we celebrated with home-made mushroom risotto with roasted butternut squash. Shhhh...

Monday, 16 January 2012

Environmental Art


Or 'frost art', perhaps. We had a hard frost overnight and during today. Some pedestrian artist saw the blank canvas afforded by the grass in the quad of the University of Edinburgh's Old College, and couldn't resist.

The photographer in me was enthralled, the gardener less so. Frost-trampled grass can really suffer.

Below, the motif from a higher view point. The netting is there to prevent pigeons nesting on the balconies. Short of climbing on the ledge there was nothing I could do to avoid the netting coming out in the shot. I decided I didn't want University security called to rescue me, so settled for the grid effect. Still, it makes a nice contrast of regimentation and free-flowing expression.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Skywatch Friday - landscapes in the sky


Massing grey clouds form a landscape in the sky behind Calton Hill.




More skies around the world are at Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Natural lines


Lines from a walk by the river Spey. Above, the high water mark from a recent spate.

Below, a very orderly mole.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

And back to winter


After the glimpse of spring in my last post, here's the other side of January in Scotland. When we left Speyside on 2 January to travel back to Edinburgh sleet was beginning to fall. Between Grantown on Spey and Aviemore the snow started - 'blin' drift' in Scots (translation: 'blizzarding snow, blown by strong winds so that it obscures your vision. 'Blin' pronounced as in 'pin'. I'm feeling rather Inuit-ish with my Scots snow terminology!) - and the road filled up very quickly. South of Newtonmore the traffic halted completely. We were comforted by the sight of a snowplough/gritter a few cars ahead of us, but all the same it was sobering to sit in a car rocked by a gale, on a desolate stretch of road, with only a food stock of left-over Christmas cake, mince pies and kettle chips. Plus the survival blankets which we always carry in the winter.

We eventually got moving without any digging out being required, and by the time we reached Perth there was no snow to be seen.
Yesterday and today we're back to gales, so the year has got off to a turbulent start.

Among the pictures of this week's storm damage on the BBC Scotland website, I noted the irony of a house featured in the 'Grand Designs' programme which had lost its roof (it's the 7th photo along). On either side the stolid, very ungrandly designed houses appear unscathed.

Monday, 2 January 2012

New life


Discovered on a walk by the River Spey yesterday. A patch of precocious green, and not just a few shoots, but burgeoning flower heads.


Their habitat was an east-facing mossy bank, scattered with fallen leaves, and in dappled sun. Sheltered from the prevailing westerly and northerly winds, and above all but the very highest reach of the river in spate.


And flowering - delicate, deeply divided individual flowers emerging from fresh green bracts, some of them frost-burned.


I turned to the family copy of the Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers. First printed 1955, ours is the seventh edition, 1969. No first edition, sadly, as for our Reader's Digest 'The Gardening Year'.


When my mother and I used to use it to identify flowers we found on our walks, we would invariably discover that we had whittled the possibilities down to something extremely rare and confined to the south of England. The explanation of the star system used by the Collins guide has a schoolmasterly tone, "We have devised a star system to show how common or rare a plant is, to add to the pleasure of finding something uncommon, and to discourage rash identification of unlikely rarities". Continuing in that fine tradition of pleasure rapidly followed by discouragement, my first stab this time turned out to have three stars for rarity, and to be "confined to woods and copses in one small area in E Sussex. Flowers June-July". A second attempt gave me the satisfyingly Lord of the Rings sounding White Butterbur, two stars for rarity and "local in plantations and by roadsides, chiefly in the N". A quick cross-check with photos on the internet (the Collins guide is illustrated by line drawings), and I'm sure that it is indeed White Butterbur. The two star rarity is for scarce plants "which usually grow only in limited areas, but may be thinly scattered over a wide area". White Butterbur is apparently an early flowering plant, so its January appearance is not a cause for climate change concern.

With this stirring of new life even in the north of Scotland, I'd like to wish all my readers and commenters a Happy New Year. Who knows where blogging will lead us in 2012. Writing this post, I found myself wondering about taking a botany course at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh...I'd be interested to hear where blogging has led or might lead you.

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