In his keynote speech at the launch of the Office for Students, Sam Gyimah reminds us that he has pledged himself to be “Not just a universities minister, but also a minister for students”. A worthy aim, but read his speech and you get a clear idea who he has in mind when he thinks of students. There are references to “anxious parents and grandparents worried about student fees”, students “investing the best years of their lives in their university experience”, HEIs “in loco parentis”, university education as “a rite of passage. Key and core to transition to adulthood”. Only the last two statements have any nod to the possibility that this might not be true for every student but, otherwise, the overwhelming message from our “minister for students” is unmistakeable: university is a finishing school for young people.
How does this square with the HESA data, which records a significant 31% of students entering higher education over the age of 25 (2016/17), or with governmental concern over the decline in part-time study, which typically has high proportions of older learners? Where is the joined-up thinking with the Industrial Strategy, Degree Apprenticeships, social mobility?
Government will be part of the problem, not the solution, if a simplistic view is taken of higher education that deters adults from recognising that they could participate and builds policy narrowly around the interests of 18 year-olds. Ministers must not be blinkered by their own “conventional” journey through higher education, or that of their advisers and speech-writers.
Sam Gyimah promises a “laser-like focus on students” with whom he wants to engage directly to “listen to their hopes and concerns”. The DfE review of post-18 funding also undertakes to take students seriously. Let us hope that they all learn, as they pick up these new responsibilities, to pay proper attention to the 31% who have already made their “transition to adulthood”!
I went back to Leeds City College to study English and Maths. I needed the qualifications to progress into nursing which was something I’d always wanted to do. I also wanted to prove that having children at a young age did not mean my life, ambitions and dreams were over.
I worked in insurance for 13 years but my heart was never in it, so I had a job change and started working as a PA for a lady who was blind and had physical disabilities. She used to live locally and then moved to Scotland. I used to commute to Scotland and stay with her and her family for 4- 5 days at a time. Whilst I worked for her I used to say how I wanted to get into nursing but didn’t have the qualifications to do this and that I was too old. She told me that the only person holding me back was myself. The funding for her care package came to an end so I bit the bullet and signed up for GCSEs in English and Maths.
My experience was a challenging one – it has been 25 years since I had been in education so I was back to basics. I also had to move to the Beeston campus in my second year when the Morley campus closed down and this meant a longer commute in rush hour traffic.
It was hard to attend classes and make sure all my homework was complete alongside working and running a home, but the end goal kept me going. The highlight for me was having supportive tutors whom I will be eternally grateful to for helping me get to this stage in my life. My Maths tutor offered additional sessions in his own time to make sure everyone succeeded. Nothing was too much trouble even when I had meltdowns and I felt that I just couldn’t grasp the dreaded algebra or know the difference between SOHCAHTOA and Pythagoras. I also met some like-minded peers who have become lifelong friends. All the hard work and determination paid off and I achieved my GCSEs.
During the run-up to my exams there was an option to attend some GCSE study sessions organised by the LLC. This was a brilliant opportunity to get up to scratch with my studies but also gave me the opportunity of looking to the future and seeing where my new qualifications might take me. I had a guidance appointment and became aware of the Preparation for Higher Education (PHE) course, which I enrolled on and subsequently completed. From there I was able to progress to the BSc Mental Health Nursing degree at Leeds.
If someone would have said to me when I signed up for English and Maths at Leeds City College that I would now be studying here I would have laughed. Regardless of your own situations do something for you and grasp any opportunity that comes your way. I’ve achieved this in four years and in the grand scheme of things that’s a drop in the ocean. I’m a normal girl from a working class background and if I can do it anyone can. I would like to again thank all my tutors that put up with me, supported me and helped me achieve the end result that I needed.
The following is a guest post by Amanda Richardson, a mature student who graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in Professional Studies in July 2017.
In 2011 I was pregnant, and had started to become dissatisfied with my job. I decided that I wanted to return to higher education and was inspired by several friends who had already done so.
After doing some research online I decided that the University of Leeds offered the course I wanted to do. Getting in touch with the Lifelong Learning Centre was one of the best decisions I ever made. My appointment for pre-entry information, advice and guidance really broadened my awareness of the courses that were available to me. I decided to apply for the BA Professional Studies degree. Over the three years of this full-time course the modules often pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I found these were the ones I enjoyed the most. I was also able to pick modules from across the University as part of the ‘Broadening’ strand. The prospect of being sat in lectures with traditional students was daunting, but I came to realise that actually most students have the same experiences at university regardless of age. The degree was not what I had initially expected it to be, but ultimately I was glad of this – it was much more challenging, and satisfying when I achieved a 2:1 classification.
I experienced personal challenges during my learning journey: anxiety and PTSD resulting from domestic violence, glandular fever, as well as being a single parent to child under four with everything that goes along with that! The help and support of the staff in the LLC was invaluable; in fact there were many times that I would have just given up on my degree if it hadn’t been for them. They provide familiar faces, and a place to go on campus – I am not the most social able of people, but they gave me confidence to join in with more activities and help other students make progress with their own learning journeys.
The following is a guest post by Simon West, a mature student who graduated from Leeds University Business School with a first class Honours degree in July 2017.
When I was in my last year at Allerton High School, I thought that I had it all worked out. My mocks predicted that I would receive either A*, A’s or B’s for all eight GCSEs and be able to choose whichever route I wanted. My exams were coming up when my Grandma, who I lived with, was taken ill. My Grandma died at home on the Friday night during the first week of exams and it turned the world upside down for me, my Mum and Grandad. It eventually led to the selling of the family home and me sleeping on the sofa at my Grandad’s (a one-bedroom flat) for months.
I took the remaining four exams between her death and the funeral a week later and, although I passed half my exams with the expected grades, the other half weren’t as good as I had achieved in my mocks. I had to change all the plans laid out for me and took a college course in a panic.
After six months I left college and a friend got me a job at his work for two days each week. My job was to sweep the floors of the factory and clean around the skips and then jump inside the skips to break up the window frames and glass (there wasn’t much concern with health and safety in those days!). I did this all for £10 a day, which when bus fares and lunch was taken off meant I took home £6 to my Grandad.
Five years later I was promoted to supervisor of the factory and, ten years after that, trade and production manager. After 20 years, however, the company went bust (not my fault, honest!). I was interviewed for supervisory role by two other companies in the same industry and both knocked me back for not having any management qualifications. Being stubborn, I thought “I’ll show you” and applied to Leeds to do a three-year Diploma of Higher Education (Dip HE) in Business Management with the Lifelong Learning Centre.
Staff at the LLC could not have been more accommodating and supportive in ensuring I completed the Dip HE. For example, my new job came with an extremely heavy workload and I was able to split my final year of study across a two-year period. The Dip HE allowed me to join a BSc with Leeds University Business School at Level 3, which I completed this summer with first class Honours!
The LLC and its wonderful staff have helped me in numerous ways during the six years of my studies. They provide support to everyone who studies with them whilst still advocating independent learning, so you always feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete your course.
The strange thing is, and I’ve only ever told my wife this, that when it comes to my education I think I’ve always had a little piece of me missing since my Grandma died and today I feel complete again.
I’ve been browsing what’s on at this year’s Leeds International Film Festival, and thought this may be a great opportunity for students to have an alternative day/night out which is relevant to their studies!
Five students who began their studies at Leeds on our Certificate of Higher Education in Arabic, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (Cert HE) graduated in July with stunning success. Samiya Zeb, who was one of our first cohort of students in 2012, stole the show by achieving a first class degree in which was greatly deserved due to the amazing amount of hard work put in and dedication shown by her over the last five years.
Samiya joined us at a time where there was no provision for our students to Study Abroad as part of their progression towards gaining a degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies. The LLC agreed with the Department of Arabic, Islamic Studies and Middle Eastern Studies (AIMES) that Samiya would sit an exam to test her proficiency in the Arabic language in order to make a special case for her to go on the year abroad.
Three years ago Samiya achieved 90% in her test which left native Arabic language tutors astounded! This led to the LLC expanding its programme with a view to allowing students who wanted to deepen their knowledge of the Arabic language to complete the Cert HE with the LLC and then go on a year abroad in Morocco. In the last two years, Samiya consistently achieved excellent marks across the board for her modules and obtained a well-deserved first class Honours degree.
AIMES is very pleased with the achievement of the other four students who graduated this year which is testament to their dedication, sacrifice and hard work during their time at Leeds. One student with mitigating circumstances is also due to graduate this December subject to completing her assessments in due course.
We at the LLC are very proud of our students who thoroughly deserve their stunning success and wish them the very best of luck for the future.
The following is a guest post by Roland Maposa, a mature student about to start his final year studying full-time on our BA Professional Studies programme.
I would like to thank the LLC Opportunities Fund for enabling me to travel to the 2017 ‘Entrepreneurship in China’ International Summer School in Hangzhou. The summer school was attended by 37 students from 19 different universities, totalling 17 different nationalities. I felt supported by both staff from the Lifelong Learning Centre and the Leeds Study Abroad Office, especially when complications arose. The administrative team for the Summer School in China were also very helpful despite the time difference, and I was able to apply for a visa through the Chinese Consulate in Manchester (which I had to attend in person in order to provide fingerprints). Upon arrival in Hangzhou, there were student volunteers at the registration desk in the hotel we were staying at and the same students picked us up to show us the way to the venue the next morning.
We stayed in the Zijingang International Hotel as part of the programme provision. I was in a shared room with a student of Chinese heritage, whose help and support (mostly as a translator) proved invaluable during my time in Hangzhou. We got on rather well, given our age difference. The academic content of the summer school was pretty robust. We had a total of nine lectures and two language classes, three company visits and four cultural visits. The company visits provided a fascinating insight into how business operates in China. The lectures, which were delivered in English, offered different entrepreneurial perspectives on ‘Doing Business in China’ (DBIC) and the teaching staff were very engaging. The culmination of the programme was the submission of a business plan together with a pitch on the final day. An official transcript from Zhejiang University was given to us at the end along with a certificate of completion (I achieved a mark of 80).
The weekend cultural trip was the only excursion to incur an extra cost (Y300.00). Outside of the official programme there was plenty of time to see some of Hangzhou’s other sights. The city is an internal tourist destination, with Chinese nationals from all over the country traveling there. I understood this first hand after receiving many requests along the lines of ‘‘can we take a picture or selfies?’’ a fascinating experience to begin with but wearing towards the end of the visit! Eating in the university canteen cost less than Y20, although eating elsewhere cost a minimum of Y30. The buses cost Y2-4 per trip and were quite an experience! Cash is king in China (for foreigners), while locals prefer Alipay.
China, I found, was a place of contrasts – everywhere you look there is a juxtaposition. I felt very safe during my time there and spoke to many students who shared common expectations from their degrees. Everyone was shocked when they heard my age (I think this was complementary) however, a few did say I gave them hope that as serious as they needed to take life should anything happen everything would be ok, something my experience attests to.
I was impressed by what I saw in China, particularly by the summer school programme. I would recommend the experience to anyone wanting to explore and understand doing business in China. I sincerely thank the LLC Opportunities Fund for affording me the funds to access this opportunity fully. The experience will inform my career options and I can say I now understand the importance of China as the world’s second biggest economy.
I was a short-listed nominee for the Community Impact Award, in recognition of the work I deliver in schools, community settings and as part of restorative justice in specific cases. I felt this was well-deserved recognition of the work I do around awareness of knife crime and its impact on families, which I have been developing over a number of years.
The awards ceremony took place at the Grosvenor House Hotel and was a prestigious occasion. I was taken aback by the elaborate setting and the size of the venue. The event was sponsored by the Royal Air Force who had a large presence, whilst the audience was made up of representatives of schools from across the country. Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, was present and Julian Clary presented the awards. There was a champagne reception and time for photographs before we were seated for dinner. Representing Bankside Primary School in Leeds, I was seated at a table with a school from Devon, the teachers and Executive Head from which were lovely and very interested in the work I do.
Whilst I didn’t win, it was clear that the work I am doing is getting talked about as a head-teacher from a school in Leeds approached me at the champagne reception and asked me if I would go into her primary school and do some work with pupils from Years 5 and 6. I have since had an initial meeting with them and arranged a further meeting with staff and the Safer Leeds community policing team I work with to discuss delivering some workshops in September. I will also be meeting with a high school from Rothwell in due course.
After the ceremony there was drinks and dancing on the balcony until midnight. I had never been to London and it was a once in a lifetime experience, something to tell the grandchildren about and something to aspire to. Without the opportunity to attend the awards I would not be initiating further preventative work with youngsters in Leeds.
Without the financial support I was given to secure hotel accommodation, travel expenses, tickets for the event itself and evening wear I would not have been in a position to go – thanks to the LLC for making it possible.
The ninth annual Adult Learner Summer School took place earlier this month during which 36 adults from communities across the city and beyond came to the University of Leeds to find out about routes to higher education. Attendees took part in three days of subject tasters and explored some academic and critical thinking skills for university.
The group heard some of the diverse learning journeys of our students, quizzed University staff about the costs and benefits of university and enjoyed a ‘campus bingo’ tour using iPads to capture their personal perspectives of the campus.
Learners’ feedback focused on how the summer school had changed some of their thinking and on how much they valued the encouragement and its impact on their future aspirations:
“It has changed my ideas about how accessible university is, now I understand that there are so many pathways”
“The Summer School has made me realise that university is an achievable goal”
“I feel so inspired, motivated and excited to start my university journey”
Here at the LLC we’re very grateful to the volunteer Learning Champions who contributed to the summer school, sharing their valuable insights into life as a mature university student. These mature students helped the group to begin to see university as a realistic option and think through what progression to higher education might mean for them. We are delighted with the success of this year’s summer school and look forward to running another equally positive event in 2018.
As the end of my second year was approaching I was struggling to realise my plan of finding a paid work placement to undertake between my second and third years of study. I had thought obtaining a placement should be fairly easy, given my previous work and life experience and having the advantage of being a mature student. As the applications, emails, letters and phone calls (to many different organisations) mounted without reply however, I almost admitted defeat and began thinking about going directly into the third year of my degree course instead.
However, as I focused on studying for my end-of-year exams I came across an advert for a 12-month voluntary traineeship with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) as a Nature Reserves Trainee, working in practical conservation and habitat management. Based in Huddersfield with travel around West Yorkshire, this seemed the perfect position for me and was actually a much better fit for my future career aspirations than the companies I contacted previously had been.
The coming year was to be particularly challenging for me as I was also expecting the arrival of my first child just after the end of my exams. The timing was perfect from our perspective, as I was expecting to be in full-time paid employment for the full nine months of my partner’s maternity leave. However, upon a successful interview with the YWT my next step was to go through all the necessary applications to get the maximum amount of student loans and grants in order to subsidise an unpaid placement. I received a lot of help from the LLC, particularly MJ and Paul, who helped challenge a decision from Student Finance England that my placement was not a ‘special case’ and therefore would only qualify for the minimal amount of funding.
The challenge had delayed my SFE payments and by the time I was two weeks into my work placement I had still not received any funds from them. I had been made aware of the LLC Opportunities Fund a few months earlier during a talk in a careers session (as well as through LeedsforLife) and so I applied. I believed I fit the bill as I was applying for something that would help me in my future career. The money could have been allocated to several criteria – training and certificates, travel expenses and accommodation (rent) costs. It was agreed by the Fund Committee that my first couple of months travel expenses for the placement could be paid. This helped me in many ways, not least by enabling me to attend some important courses and introductory seminars for my new work, as well as task days and work parties which enabled me to hit the ground running.
There had been times when I questioned working in a voluntary position, but after sticking with it and getting some financial help in the beginning, I have now been asked to join the projects team to work full-time in a paid role.