The Pros and Cons of Going to University in Cornwall

You’ve just finished your first year of sixth form or college, and now you’re thinking, “So what am I doing after I finish my A-levels/BTECs?”. For around half of all young people, ‘what next’ will be university. Although it’s an increasingly bank-breaking pursuit (for the government, anyway, as they continue to underwrite loans that many will never pay off), there are many careers where a degree is a necessity.

If you’re considering going to Cornwall, specifically Tremough Campus in Penryn (near Falmouth), shared by Falmouth Uni, a smidgeon of Exeter Uni, and Camborne School of Mines, then good news! I can give you some insight into living and studying there. The bad news is that I had an emotionally and mentally turbulent time as an Exeter undergrad and hated most of it, but don’t be scared off – lots of people who study in Cornwall love it. If you don’t want to live in a city and love the outdoors (which is where I went wrong), this may well be what you’re looking for. Here are some pros and cons to help you decide if Cornwall is the place for for you, with a side order of resentment and bitterness.

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Penryn Viaduct. It’s stunning from the ground too. Credit: saffron100_uk’s Flickr

Pros:

  • It’s mostly beautiful. Although you’d expect the most beautiful scenery from the many beaches, main Falmouth beach Gyllyngvase is hugely overrated. However, the view from the top of the many slopes in Falmouth is pretty attractive, as is Pendennis Point. The most beautiful of all is arguably College Wood Viaduct; nestled behind Penryn high street. It’s a little grove with a stream, playground and lots of greenery, and then, BAM, massive viaduct. Quite romantic, really. Slightly further away, you’ve also got the Eden Project, Land’s End and Minack Theatre. 
  • It’s stuffed with vibrant independent shops. As an obsessive CD buyer at the time of my degree and a huge fan of High Fidelity, Cornwall was a surprising boon. There are loads of great record stores in Truro and Falmouth. Sounds OK, on Falmouth high street, and Music Nostalgia, in the Pannier Market in Truro, will take care of your second hand ownership needs – I managed to find some very rare Blur CDs in them both (a rare Japanese import of B-sides in the former, and special edition versions of the Best Of, Think Tank and 13 albums in the latter). Jam, also on the high street in ‘Fally’, is a cafe-and-CD-shop with a mix of new and second hand releases. There are also loads of independent clothes stores offering hippy wares. I don’t know where else I’d have found a massive flouncy silver skirt.If you fancy a sort-of chain store which is unique to the south-west, try Trago Mills. No, not the Countdown series 72 runner up (LOL, Countdown bants!!), but the TARDIS-like department store by the waterfront in Falmouth town centre. It has an impressive array of everything you could ever want, cheaply. And a less impressive roster of flirty old shop assistants and giant UKIP poster overlooking the tills by the exit.
  • Considering how small it is, there’s a good choice of pubs and bars. If you’re at uni in Cornwall, you’ll be spending all your time in Falmouth and Penryn (unless you have a car and low standards, in which case, Newquay welcomes you). There are at least 20 drinking establishments in Falmouth, some of which are brilliant (a list of my favourites is here), while tiny Penryn has at least 5 (another list here). The restaurants aren’t quite as laudable, but Amanzi – a South African restaurant in the pedestrianised town centre of Falmouth – is a real treat. 
  • Cornish cuisine. Pasties, cider and clotted cream. This sounds like I’m just stereotyping the county, but really. Pasty shops are everywhere. There are at least 5 in Falmouth alone, selling all different kinds of pasties. (Sweet ones are just better than savoury ones, am I right?) 
  • The campus is brand new, and Exeter’s Cornwall students are more likely to get a First than their main campus counterparts (according to our lecturers, anyway). If you can put up with the Cornwall living experience, then you’ll probably have a pretty good degree experience too. 

Cons:

  • It’s expensive. Norwich, which is basically in the middle of nowhere, can house University of East Anglia students in the city for under £250 per month. If you want a room in Falmouth, which is definitely in the middle of nowhere, you’ll be shelling out over £100 more for the promise of a roof over your head, while the university halls are around £400 per month. If you only qualify for the smallest student loan bracket, either you’ll have to get a job, rely on savings, or take out a loan from the Bank of Mum and Dad. Otherwise you’ll be £800 short before you’ve bought a single textbook or a pint of milk.
  • It’s isolated, and its infrastructure is utter balls. Want to go to a big gig? Er, bad luck – you’ll probably have to go out of the county and get overnight accommodation, because the latest you can get trains from Plymouth to Falmouth is 20:40. Fancy visiting a friend at their uni? Better hope you have a LOT of spare time. Getting out of Cornwall is a mission. Even getting around it is a mission: if you ever need to get a package from the very inconvenient Post Office depot, you’ll basically need a £10 taxi ride. The only other option is a 50-minute bus ride and a 10-minute walk each way.

    There are no motorways, just teeny-tiny lanes and next to no provision for parking. There are achingly slow trains that take an hour and a half to go the 40 miles between Plymouth and Penryn, and a bizarre rail network that takes 2 1/2 hours to get trains from Falmouth to Newquay (20 miles apart). The bus route is 90 minutes from Fal to Newquay, but that doesn’t make them more reliable; the local buses are regularly late or don’t show up, which is inconvenient if you’re reliant on a bus to get in on time for lectures. You could fly – planes from London to Newquay are far cheaper than they used to be – but then you’ve got to fuck around with getting from the airport to Falmouth. You’ll need a taxi and then that looong bus journey, which takes far longer than the flight itself. Oh, and getting trains from London to Falmouth takes around 5 hours. Steel yourself for these things.

  • The nightlife is limited, and even what’s there is under threat. Everywhere in Falmouth keeps closing down. Q Bar, beloved for its Cookie Monster cocktails which you set on fire and then drink, closed. Nancy’s, where I tried my first ever pint of Rekorderlig, closed. The legendarily awful Remedies nightclub, a swap shop for many an STI, closed. This is just a glimpse into the roster of places that have shut down (RIP The King’s Head, The Underground, the cocktail bar that replaced Remedies, Shades, Mama Africa [which replaced Shades], Club Chic [which replaced Mama Africa]). There are some good spots, even if , but if you want a big ol’ uni stereotype night out, you’ll need to go all the way up to Newquay, which is a mish. 
  • The campus is small, which means there are limited opportunities for societies and facilities. If you don’t want to join a political party, aren’t interested in outdoorsy clubs, and you’re rightly horrified by the notion of joining the end-of-days stare-into-the-unfunny-in joke-abyss that is Feccles drama group, you’re basically never going to leave the house.

    For budding journalists, there was Flex newspaper, who didn’t want to know if you didn’t know the editorial team personally –  I once sent them a review of an album that had been released the previous day, which they claimed there was no space for, yet there was somehow room for a review of a film that had been released six months previously at the cinema (written, of course, by one of the editor’s mates) – and a radio station, which I joined at the end of my first year and loved it, but which stopped running in my second year.

  • The Exeter main campus doesn’t give a shit about you, and even if they did, you’re an inconvenience. In a fit of second year productivity post-depression, having grown tired of the newspaper’s terrible planning and short-sighted nepotism, I contacted the main campus paper, suggesting I could contribute a digest of Cornwall campus news, as we were more or less an unknown quantity up there. They snippily informed me that they had no interest in anything to do with the Cornwall campus.The main campus TV station were far more pleasant and were enthusiastic about me contributing material… that is, until it turned out that I’d basically have to go all the way up to Exeter (2 1/2 hours away), lug all the video equipment back over 2 1/2 hours to Cornwall, then film and return it on an endless cycle. It’s completely impractical. There’s no shuttle-bus between campuses. Most people don’t care about this and are more than happy to be the black sheep of the Exeter family, but I care, and 3 years later, I’m still pretty peeved that one ill-predicted A-level grade was the difference between the journalism opportunities I could have had on the main campus, and the absolute dearth of them on the Cornwall one.

    Admittedly, if I’d actually enjoyed my uni years, I wouldn’t have ended up turning to the geek heroin that is Countdown, and the opportunities I’ve had as a result of my involvement with that are almost certainly far better than the ones I would have had otherwise… but I’m not going to thank Exeter’s incompetence for that.

    Screw you, main campus. Just because you’re jealous that we get better grades than you because there’s nothing to distract us…

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