The Social Mobility Commission has released its sixth annual ‘State of the Nation’ report, which assesses the progress that the UK has made towards improving social mobility.
Open University graduate, Helen, featured in the report gives an example of how a ‘second chance’ at learning can impact life chances. It also highlights the importance of being able to move between further education and higher education to progress with studies.
Professor Mary Kellett, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University commented:
“The Social Mobility’s report out today highlights how the decline in part-time students since 2010/11 has acted as barrier to social mobility, and one we’re keen to see addressed in the forthcoming Post-18 Review into fees and funding in England. The OU is a key driver of social mobility in the UK, with our open access policy meaning that no prior qualifications are needed for most OU courses.
Part-time distance learning offers an educational lifeline to many from less advantaged backgrounds who rely on the flexibility to earn while they learn. We believe that where you start in life should not dictate where you finish and we will continue helping thousands to achieve their full potential and go as far as their talents will take them.”
Helen describes her OU journey:
I didn’t really apply myself at school, as I was more interested in PE and chasing boys! When it came to my GCSE’s, I feel like I failed to reach my potential. I had an intelligent brother and knew I would never achieve what he had, so didn’t see the point in trying.
I went on to study A Levels in Music and Sociology, but was still unsure what I wanted to do as a career. As I enjoyed looking after people, I decided to work towards a Diploma in Nursing at Surrey University in 2004 and surprised myself with what I could accomplish. I chose a Diploma, as I didn’t think I was intelligent enough to do a Degree. When I started to believe in myself and develop a career in nursing, I began to enjoy my studies.
Following completion of my Diploma, I began to work as a Staff Nurse on a stroke unit in Somerset. I missed reading and thinking critically, so when an opportunity arose to top up to a Degree, I thought ‘yes, let’s do this’. I chose to study though The OU, as the flexibility of the course meant that I could keep working and commit to study days that suited me.
I worked a lot of night shifts at the time and the manageable work load with The OU, allowed me to complete my assignments and reading during my breaks. I achieved a BSc with 1st class honours in Adult Nursing in 2013.
I thought about doing a Masters, but again never thought it was something I could do. After questioning what I wanted to achieve and how this would enable me to instigate improvement in my workplace, I chose to do something that would stimulate my brain and that I could apply to my practice later.
I picked an MSc in Advancing Healthcare Practice as I felt passionate about improving quality of care for patients and developing the understanding and skills to do this. I successfully applied for funding though the Nora Hurle Trust for Somerset Nurses.
My studies enabled me to gain a deeper understanding of the way things work, especially in terms of leadership and how to manage this. I thoroughly enjoyed completing the projects where I could explore an area of practice which needed improvement.
Both the materials and the tutors were amazing. You need a lot of motivation to complete a course through distance learning, but the emails of encouragement and tutor group forums were brilliant. The course deadlines are presented to you at the beginning, making it easy to to plan and manage your workload.
The accessibility of the course allowed me to balance my studies with my life. I found it easier to focus if I went to the library at work, which luckily was open 24 hours. I spent many nights there until 2-3am. Having a house move mid-studies was challenging – especially with the lack of WiFi at times. I also had two children during my studies – luckily their births fell at the end of one module and prior to another starting.
My personal goal was to complete the course, as it was something that I thought I’d never be able to do. Since completing the Masters, I’ve been promoted to Junior Sister. I’m sure the advanced knowledge of the healthcare system and better understanding of leadership gained through my studies gave me the edge during my interview.
I really don’t know what’s next for me. I would love to complete a PhD in a topic I feel truly passionate about, however at the moment I am still soaking in my extended knowledge and disseminating this to my team at work. The course has given me the confidence I lacked in myself to be able to do something well. It has also helped me develop organisational skills and stay focused.
Find out more:
Read the full ‘State of the Nation’ report
About studying Nursing at The Open University