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Faces of the documentary: OU at 50

Meet three of the stars of a new hour-long BBC documentary, celebrating The Open University and its 50th birthday.

OU graduates Cassandra Fellingham, Melanie Bailey and Abbey Farris all appear as they are filmed receiving their degrees at a degree ceremony in Brighton.

Find out more about them before tuning in to watch the documentary, called Happy Birthday OU: 50 Years of the Open University on BBC4 on Thursday April 25 at 9pm:

OU graduate Cassandra Fellingham

Cassandra missed out on higher education post school, but got the chance to study for a degree with the OU at 24. By this time she had a child and juggled studying and childcare with a full-time job. She says:

I felt that a degree would give me the clarity I needed to succeed – especially when working side-by-side with colleagues that already had significant qualifications. Studying has given me more confidence in my abilities and diminished the insecurities I had at school.

Thrown into this mix was serious illness; Cassandra managed her studies while also receiving treatment for cancer and credits her tutors and OU support teams for helping her through:

When I hit a bump in the road with my diagnosis of cancer, The OU was supportive in allowing me time to step away from my course to concentrate on my recovery.

She highlights the self-motivation needed to study distance learning, but says forums and Facebook groups meant she did not feel alone. At Brighton, receiving her Open Degree Cassandra looked back:

Through it all my kids have been my inspiration – I want to provide them with a role model to look up to – and after you’ve tackled the ups and downs, it’s so worth it to be standing on stage with your degree certificate on graduation day! 

Abbey and her baby son at her graduation

Abbey has had a momentous year – completing her final year of study, planning her wedding and giving birth to her first child. No wonder the flexibility of studying with the OU was attractive to her!

Having begun her Higher Education studies at a traditional university, Abbey found it wasn’t for her and she changed direction. Not only did she switch from sports science to health and social care, Abbey also began working in a psychiatric hospital alongside:

I wanted my studies to help shape my work, so that I could better understand the patients that I was working with, providing them with the best care for their needs.

Working alongside studying was challenging at times, but the sense of achievement and personal satisfaction kept me motivated.

She utilised online tutorials, forums and Facebook groups for solidarity and friendship:

Solo studying can be tough, but with The OU you’re only a computer away from a whole network of supportive staff and peers.

Abbey’s baby son was just eight-weeks old when she crossed the stage at Brighton to receive her OU degree. Once she returns to work she says she’s going to think about studying again:

My advice for anyone considering signing up for an OU course, would be to throw yourself into it and enjoy every second – even those late nights when your scribbling away trying to finish your work, it’s all worth it when you can stand side-by-side with your fellow students on graduation day.

Melanie Bailey at her graduation

Twenty-six-year-old Melanie Bailey also diverted from an initial route to a traditional university where she was studying psychology, and chose the OU way instead. She said:

I was away from home, in central London and whilst I was enjoying the subject and had lots of work and study to do, I felt there was something missing. I actually missed the part-time work I had been doing before going to university.

She returned home and began working in one of her local hospitals in their laboratories. She took up an OU degree in Natural Sciences and incredibly managed her studies whilst doing a full-time job and completed in just four years – with a 2:1.

When you enjoy what you are studying and if it’s a love and passion it doesn’t feel like work. It was an escape from my regular day job and I didn’t think about it being tough. Everyone at work said they couldn’t understand how I did it, but I just love learning, a hobby for me is to learn something new or unexpected.

A strong advocate for women in STEM, Melanie has continued to pursue her career and is now doing a PhD with Teeside University while also working full-time in a GP surgery.

Her ambition is to work in public health research, particularly suicide prevention and is enjoying the experience she is gaining working in primary care.

Happy Birthday OU: 50 Years of the Open University is on BBC4 on Thursday April 25 at 9pm.

About Author

Christine works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She is an experienced BBC journalist, sub-editor and news editor and has a background in regional newspapers. After moving to PR she worked as a press officer for the Zoological Society of London. She has a BSc in Social Sciences with Politics from The Open University and focuses on stories from the Faculty of Social Science and widening access in HE. Chris swims regularly and has a pet Tortoise called Lightning.

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