I hated school. I didn’t like my teachers, I had very few friends and couldn’t wait to finish my GCSEs. Academically I could very easily have gone to a ‘traditional’ university, however I just couldn’t bear the thought of sitting in classrooms and waiting for my life to begin… after my studies had finished.
In hindsight I feel a tiny bit ashamed that I didn’t take advantage of university study when it was free. However I left school and started working immediately. I have been in employment (sometimes two or three jobs at the same time) for all the 24 years of my working life (so far!). I’ve worked in some great places, met many people and gained a vast range of skills and experience.
I started working at The Open University, in alumni relations, and got to meet some fantastic students and alumni. I was amazed how they could juggle life real life – where granny has to move in with you for six months, and children arrive, and you move house twice – and still manage to complete six (or many more) years of study to achieve a degree. The pride I’ve seen in so many people’s faces inspired me to start my own learning journey. Now I’ve been pretty lazy about it. I’ve been studying really for about the last 10 years on and off, randomly picking subjects that I find interesting. That’s the beauty of the OU, you can just pick the topics that stimulate you. And if you don’t like it… well you can try a different subject next year.
Working in a university initially gave me a biased view of academic achievement. Obviously great value is placed in having a qualification. However my view has been balanced by the many alumni I have met over the years. So many of them are doing it for career purposes, to work towards changing their job or progressing up the ladder with their employer. However the skills that they gain through studying part time overlaps into their personal life too. Many talk about the confidence that study has given them, their ability to analyse, absorb information and create reasoned arguments has meant that their personal life has also been positively affected by their study.
There are always stars. A 92-year-old gentleman achieving his degree – you’re never too old to learn. And I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a professional rower who’s training for the Olympics later this year. He’s had to move his wife and young child to be close to his training ground and is so determined to get his business degree this year, and yet manages to keep a balance on everything. He told me that when he’s doing something (training, studying, playing with his little girl) he is there fully in the moment. He is totally focussed on that thing. He is a real inspiration to us all in keeping that work/life balance in check!
Even the seemingly ordinary are extraordinary
There are literally hundreds of examples of people I’ve met and every single one of them inspires me. I can’t wait to join the ranks of OU alumni. They are an incredible bunch of people who work so hard and I feel it will be a privilege to join them when I complete my degree next year. I do study to enhance my career, I think it will give me more confidence in my own abilities. But actually I’m just proving a point. I do have a brain and I know how to use it. And I don’t regret for one second not going to a ‘regular’ University. Part time through the OU is so much harder but so much more rewarding.