Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Mature students at Staffordshire University

Each year, thousands of mature students apply through UCAS to study at a UK university. Unsure if this path is for you? Check out the inspirational stories from mature students studying at Staffordshire University to see if it’s the right journey for you!

Claire Wilkinson, Business management

I’m a single mum with two children – and a mortgage – living in Tamworth near Birmingham. I’ve worked for several years in a variety of different jobs, but I started to realise that the only way I was going to make real career progression was with a qualification as formal ‘proof’ of my skills and capability.

Studying an accelerated degree really appealed to me. It meant I could complete it in two years rather than three, reducing the pressure on family time and allowing me to get back into full-time employment sooner.   

Like a lot of my peers at Staffordshire, I work part-time alongside my studies. The flexible, self-led learning across the summer months also combines well with school holidays, meaning I don’t need extra childcare. It allows me to balance my time between study, work, and family.

Before starting my accelerated degree in business management, I had been out of education for quite a few years and had doubts about my academic ability. I’m now at the end of my first year and the doubts are gone – I’ve really enjoyed every aspect of the course so far. Our course leader is dedicated and positive, and I think his real commitment to his accelerated students is a key part of why it works so well. 

The process of accelerated study has also helped us as students to form a close team bond, where we support each other throughout the study challenges. I get the sense that we’re closer than our peer taking the three-year option. For me, the biggest success of the year was the ‘Willingam winners’ team competition – where my team took first place.

Grace Thomson, Business management

After finishing my A levels, I didn’t plan to study further. I wanted to get straight into work, and I did. This was good at first, and I really enjoyed where I worked, but after a while, I started to feel I would be able to make better and faster progress in my career if I had a degree.

The idea of an accelerated degree at Staffordshire really appealed to me. I’ve moved to Stoke-on-Trent to study and get back into work one year sooner than if I were taking a regular degree.

I’ve continued to work part-time whilst studying, which is great for keeping in touch with my colleagues from work for weekend trip and holidays (and for continuing to earn and support myself).

Danielle Nugent, Business management

I never planned to study at university after finishing my A levels – I wanted to get a job and start earning. I spent a few years in France, then moved back to the UK to work in insurance, before taking time out to go traveling. When I got back, I decided that I needed a qualification to progress further in the workplace. I chose to do an accelerated course so that I could get back into work sooner, and moved to Stoke.

I am now at the end of my second year, about to graduate, and have been headhunted by recruitment agencies specifically because I have ‘accelerated degree’ on my LinkedIn profile. Other students on this course have had similar experiences – having an accelerated degree has been seen by employers as a positive selling point, and as graduates they’ve been fast-tracked through recruitment stages because of it. 

Amy Lambeth, English

I went straight into university after finishing my A levels but didn’t enjoy the course I initially chose. I wanted to complete my university education alongside my peers, but I also wasn’t happy with what I was studying. When I realised I could switch to English and complete the course in two years, the decision was easy to make. 

I’m the type of person who likes to keep busy, so working through a summer term isn’t a problem. I’m studying at the same rate each week as students taking a standard English degree, so I haven’t had any problems keeping up with any of the study requirements or timescales. I still work part-time alongside my studies. The accelerated degree is simply the ideal option for me.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Choose to live with passion and intent…

My last blog was about the things a mature student needs to consider… I’ll start my latest blog with a brief update on where things are at with me, as there were a few things I left open…

My health; I had my back surgery early last month; the surgeon is happy it went well. I had a badly slipped disc, so they cut away the part of the disc that was sat on the nerve.  I’m still having issues with the nerve, as it was damaged, but the hope is that it will settle before too long.  The great news is that last week I was given the all clear to start my rehab, so after four months of living a painfully sedentary existence, I’m now able to swim, do yoga & Pilates and play a little golf.

My long overdue return to work; I previously touched on my nervous breakdown on the 5th February 2016 – a subject I’ll open up on a little more below. It has seen me unable to work for much of the la

st two and a half years; however, thanks to the help of an incredible counselor (a real-life Yoda) and a clinical psychologist, who have assisted me in picking up the pieces of my shattered life (I wish I was embellishing for dramatic effect), I’m returning to work TODAY.  Once I’ve submitted this blog, I’ll be getting ready and heading into the office – wish me luck! As my boss is flying down from Scotland specifically to see me, I’ll also be straight in the deep end today, having to inform her that I’m starting uni soon, and hoping to negotiate some part-time hours to enable me to financially support my babies & put myself through uni.
Student financing; I alluded to my application for student financing within my last blog.  I’ve found the team to be incredibly helpful and transparent in their handling off my application.  Make sure you apply for everything you believe you may qualify for! My experience is that they will discuss every aspect with you and they’ll help you to clarify how you can attain the bits you’re entitled to – an example, for me, was I had to provide copies of my girls’ birth certificates and demonstrate that their mum gets the child-related financial support. The level of student finance that I quality for has gone up a little, which all helps, and I’m still hoping that I can achieve my ‘plan A’ existing come September; work just enough to enable me to financially support my children’s life, but also affording me the spare time to commit to my studies & finance a place in the halls of residence, so I can live between Cheltenham for uni & Bristol for my babies.

Oh… and it was my birthday last week; 38. How demoralising!

So that brings you up to date…

I want to now talk a little about mental health. To piece together the above and to share a little of my life experience. My hope is that I might be able to inspire someone; whether this be a younger student that is searching for their own identity and path in life, or a mature student, like me, that is facing the daunting prospect of re-training later in life.

Put simply, choose to live with passion and intent! Without passion, what is life really about? Everyone is different, through nature & nurture, we live through different experiences, our brains function differently & we aspire to different goals. But we also share many similarities. I can’t speak personally to every individual reading this, but what I can do is share a little about my experiences, what has shaped me in my 38 years & what life lessons I can pass on, which I think might help someone else…

I’ve previously alluded to some of the less favourable experiences that I’ve had, which have shaped my future in some ways; for example, three years of bullying and isolation in the second half of senior school. My first relationship ended in horrific circumstances in my early twenties when – six months into an engagement, having just exchanged on (but not yet completed the purchase of) our first home and on the brink of trying to start a family – she told me she’d cheated on me years earlier & my world crashed down around me! Then to my marriage, a 14-year relationship (12 married), which was a concoction of happy & traumatic moments; my ex-wife was my favourite person in the entire world, but we needed different things to be happy, which ultimately corrupted our union. But throw in her long-term ill health, my high—pressured career and a young family and you have too many highs and lows to talk about in detail here.

Thanks to support of Yoda (as I’ll forever refer to her within my blog), I was able to dissect my life experiences in order to understand the root cause of my breakdown and, importantly, to enable me to pick up the pieces of my life and to reform them into a stronger and more balanced version of myself.  I could talk all day about the numerous lessons I’ve learned from Yoda and from my life experiences, but you have a life to live & this isn’t meant to be a novel! So, instead, I’ll impart the two main things I’ve taken away… live with passion and intent!

I’m a passionate and emotional person. However, because I was living my personal life being what my ex-wife needed (in turn, suppressing what I needed), and living my working life doing something that wasn’t feeding my soul, I was dying inside.  That sounds more dramatic that I intended, but it’s ultimately true.  Now that I’ve seen the error of this, I have been able to rebuild my life with clear passion and intent for my future and, you know what, it’s incredibly satisfying. Choose a life that you want to live.  Don’t settle for less. Pick a career that you can be passionate about.  Work that’s fulfilling! That doesn’t have to mean hut building in Africa, it can mean teaching, for example. Social work. Nursing. In my case, psychology.  It’s open to your interpretation too, it doesn’t have to be something that someone else believes is fulfilling work, what’s important is that it’s fulfilling to you! You might want to earn big money, have a career that’s ‘high-flying’, so stockbroking or law might appeal.  What matters is that you open your mind and soul to finding what makes you tick! Don’t live as I did, for someone else, without true purpose, as you’ll otherwise get to your late thirties and feel empty inside.  It’s a gut-wrenching feeling.  Truly soul destroying.

Try to apply this to all aspects of your life too; if you’re going to be in a relationship, make sure it works for you both! Love someone that’s good for you and will love you back. Otherwise, be patient. Don’t settle! Life is truly too short to be unhappy or live in a dysfunctional relationship. You can’t force these things; be patient and just live for now.

I’ll relate this back to university; embrace your subject. Work hard to get the most from your time – even if your subject doesn’t end up being the basis for your career, a strong grade and positive experiences will benefit your future. This is also true of your life outside of university; enjoy your life, grasp the experiences. Embrace people that are good for you & be good for them too!
Believe me, the more passion and intent you have in your life, in the way you live it, the more fulfilling it will be.  You’ll also find that the pieces of your own jigsaw will more naturally fall into place if you live in a balanced way; the friendships you nurture, the work you take on, the people you love, the pastimes you choose.

That’s enough from me. Until next time… stay classy San Diego!

Friday, 8 June 2018

Reflections of a first year by Julian Carter-Tugwell

As I write, I’ve just completed my first/fresher year at the University of Gloucestershire (UoG), and it’s been both an eventful and incredibly fulfilling experience so far.

Returning to study wasn’t a decision that I took lightly. At the age of 47, not unlike most people of that age, I had acquired a good set of life’s baggage and responsibilities. I also had a modicum of security in permanent employment, and a natural reluctance to jeopardise this. However, on the flip-side, I had a growing realisation that my career had reached an impasse. I had never really achieved the happiness and sense of belonging that I craved during my 30 years in employment.

I’m a firm believer in the adage that ‘life is too short’, and I certainly don’t want to regret the things I haven’t done, once retired. Hence, I began to tentatively investigate the possibility of returning to full-time, vocation-based, education, to improve my prospects of finding a more suitable career path; I have twenty-plus years of working life left in me, and I want to make the most of them.

I initially attended a teaching open day, as my pragmatic nature directed me thus. The event was very informative and answered every question I had, and more. However, I was hesitant and knew, despite its solid vocational status, and the possibility of studying at an exceptional establishment, that this wasn’t for me. Having scanned a generic course brochure, in my heart of hearts, I knew what I really wanted to do: Popular Music. Was a it possible though? Yes, I had a raft of doubts, but how do you know if you don’t try?

I’d played keyboards, sung and written songs for over 25 years, but it had never, realistically, gone any further than a hobby, even though I’d been dedicated at times – largely due to lack of money and resources. I felt I didn’t have the experience to offer, had a number of seemingly irrelevant qualifications, and an even less relevant CV (I’ve worked in the civil service, air traffic control, and health and safety, to name a few jobs). Nevertheless, I had nothing to lose, so I set about applying.
The University of Gloucestershire was my first choice of educational establishment, largely due to my domestic circumstances, and because my wife is also a full-time university student, studying to be a nurse, locally with the University of the West of England (UWE). Nevertheless, the university also has a superbly equipped media campus, staffed by very experienced industry professionals, which sealed the deal for me.

Prior to being offered an interview, I had been asked to submit evidence of qualifications, a CV, and a portfolio of my musical work. When I received an invitation to attend an interview day, I had a huge sense of awe. Maybe I could do this though – I’d got this far? The event itself was wholly informative and enjoyable. It provided good indication of what student life was about at the UoG, the content of my course choice, and it was also an opportunity for me to showcase my musical ability. When I say ‘musical ability’, I need to be clear that I wasn’t a ‘jobbing’ musician, just someone who liked to write songs, play, and record for their own entertainment. Yes, I’d been dabbling with keyboards since the age of 16, could produce a SoundCloud portfolio, and had a few qualifications to my name, including CSE’s, GCE’s, GCSE’s and several occupational Level 3 certificates, gained in employment. However, I wasn’t an academic, professional, or properly trained, in any sense of the word, and it was somewhat reassuring to meet some others in the same position as me. It was clear that creativity, commitment, and resolve were key factors in the selection process.
When I received my offer, I was elated. I’d made my first tentative steps into higher education, and in a subject/vocation I could only previously dream about. It was a life-changing moment.

Okay, so I’d got over the first hurdle. How would people receive my news? What would my wife think? Well, the whole experience was the antithesis of my expectations. Family and friends have been incredibly supportive. However, my wife should receive the biggest accolade. Not only has she been a huge source of encouragement, as a student herself, she has huge empathy and understanding for what I’m doing – she knows what it means to me.

So, the next question was how would the bills get paid and could we still have a life outside of the course? Thus, armed with my offer, I applied for student finance – tuition fees and maintenance. There are plenty of questions to answer and the forms are a little daunting at first sight. However, it’s worth the pain. I’ve, personally, found Student Finance England (SFE) most helpful to deal with; their website is very straightforward to use and their call centre personnel very reassuring.
I suspected it was unlikely that my maintenance grant would be sufficient to cover everything. Therefore, I made provision in my SFE application for a part-time wage. Subsequently, I was able to secure a part-time role as a vehicle loader, for a well-known courier company. I now work between 4am and 8am, Monday to Friday. This suits me well, as it facilitates my lectures and I still have weekends free.

Student status can help in other ways, such as reduced bus fares, retail discounts, and a Council Tax exemption for the duration of the course, if you’re in private accommodation. All of these make a big difference when running a household.

My course commenced on 18 September 2017. My biggest concern was, being older than many of my lecturers, how would I fit in with my new peer group – most younger than my 22 year old daughter? Well, I needn’t have worried. Within my first two days, I was working on a project with a member of my cohort and have done so, with others, on many more occasions since. I feel that I was accepted very quickly by my fellow students, which was a big relief. I feel very privileged to be amongst such talented and creative people.

The support network for mature students and pastural assistance are, quite frankly, superb. I’ve never yet experienced anything as good in all my years of working. There’s always somebody to talk to for advice.

So, here ends an educationally rich, roller-coaster year – let my blog bear testimony. I can’t wait for the next instalment in September!

Monday, 4 June 2018

The Final Countdown

This is it. Those final weeks that make or break your A-Levels. Some people have been preparing for months; some weeks; others days. But how should you be feeling? Everyone is taking exam stress in different ways. I have seen so many breakdowns in lessons juxtaposed with people who appear to not even care. I am lucky. I have an unconditional offer to study next year but that doesn’t mean I am not feeling the pressure just like everyone else. Despite reading almost every article going on unconditional offers, I still worry that if I crack under the pressure and get 3 Us that I will not be able to study Music next year. All my life all I have wanted to do is study Music and the thought of not doing that makes me want to cry inside so I cannot imagine what those who have conditional offers are feeling right now.

I recently read an article about the brains of teenagers and how they should not be subjected to major exams such as GCSEs at 16. It claimed their brain is underdeveloped and more susceptible to mental illness, but surely that would just put more strain on 18 year olds who are already pressured enough knowing that precious place at university could easily slip through their fingers. If I could go back in time I would resit my GCSEs again and again until I got amazing grades because I know now that they are unimportant but at the time they seemed to decide my whole future. I hope someday I can look at A-Levels in the same way.

I don’t intend to be negative but to any Y13 student unconditional or otherwise, is there any positivity right now? Last week was my final week of school and all the teachers did was set us essays and practise papers. Everyone saying there was areas they did not understand and the teachers responded with silence. When I began my A-Levels they told me they were a step towards university independence but I do not see ignoring those asking for help in their final week to do so as ‘independence’. I see it as a disgrace.

Wednesday sixth I will sit my first two exams and I wish anyone who has already or will sit their exams reading this the best of luck. I cannot wait to go to University. I have my place confirmed, my student finance approved and my shopping list ready. I just have to hold on a few more months.

Best wishes and good luck,


Reflections on this year

After nearly completing my first year of uni (!), I thought it may be good to reflect on my experience and give some tips for anyone starting next year:

1. You will meet some great people
One of my major concerns about going to uni was about whether I’d find friends and people on my wavelength. Happy to say, there are so many people in a university that you’re more than likely to find people like yourself. Don’t worry if it takes a bit of time, or if your friends change over the first year – you’re still getting to know these people and finding your feet!

2. There will be (a lot of) work
Misguidedly, I thought I would have significantly less work than at A-level, as at uni I’m doing only one subject. Sadly, this is not true! As well as doing work to prepare for seminars, you’ll have a lot more independent work to do, and, of course, a lot of reading!

3. You’ll probably be more adventurous than you were at home
Certainly, in my own experience, I found going to uni made me more willing to try new things and meet new people. Whether it’s going out or learning to cook, I found I was more willing to be experimental and more open to doing new things.

4. Your days will be quite unstructured
This is certainly true of a humanities degree. Gone are the days where you had a fixed number of lessons and frees during a working day. At uni, you’ll have different numbers of lectures on different days, sometimes you’ll have a seminar, sometimes you won’t. Getting used to this less structured daily routine was quite a challenge for me; I would recommend getting a diary to make sure you turn up to the right lectures at the right time, and sometimes planning how you will use your time can also be helpful.

5. There will be a lot of new opportunities
From singing to sailing, at uni you can find a society for pretty much anything! One of my regrets for this year was not signing up to as many societies, because I feared it would negatively impact on my work. But joining societies can be a great way to meet new people from different courses and years; I’ll definitely be returning to Freshers’ Fair next year!

6. From time to time you’ll miss home
Although it can be assumed that if you’re at uni, you’re automatically having a great time, that isn’t always true. I really missed home and my family over this year at uni, and speaking to friends, it was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who felt like this. Reaching out to friends for support helped me to feel less lonely, and if you’re able, going home sometimes can be helpful.

Overall uni is a great, crazy, intense experience – make sure to look after yourself and enjoy it! It is a time to try new things, learn more about the subject you’re passionate about and just have fun!

Enia x