An OU English Literature undergraduate, grandmother and former student advisor has been appointed to serve on the student panel for the Office for Students.
Jo Barlow from Cornwall was one of ten people selected for the year, after an initial pool of nearly 900 applicants for the posts.
The Office for Students (OfS) is the independent regulator of Higher Education in England, appointed to work with Higher Education providers to make sure that students succeed in higher education.
Announcing the panel, the OfS said the group would meet regularly throughout the year “to advise the OfS and ensure that students’ interests are reflected in everything we do”.
Martha Longdon, chair of the panel and the student experience member of the OfS board, said:
“We were delighted and really encouraged by the diversity of students who chose to apply to the panel, many of whom come from groups which are often underrepresented and underheard in the higher education sector.
“This year we have appointed 10 new panel members, each of whom was an outstanding candidate in an exceptionally strong field.”
Jo, who is about to start her fourth year of study with the OU, is delighted to be representing fellow OU students and those who study at a distance.
“I think it is good to represent mature, distance learners, we are special in our own way. Mature students have lots to juggle: their jobs, families. It can be hard to find peace to study.
“I am a student myself and understand what they are going through. I am passionate that everyone should have access to HE and be able to achieve if they want to. I chose distance learning because it suits me.”
Speaking of the appointment Dr Liz Marr, the OU’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students) said:
“I am absolutely delighted that Jo has been selected to be a member of this important panel. The voices of mature, part time distance learners often go unheard so it is great that she is now in a position to speak for the experience of OU students. At a time when more and more learning and assessment is being delivered in a blended way she will be able to share her own knowledge to the benefit of the whole HE community of students.“
A writer and proofreader, Jo worked for many years as a HE academic advisor in a college before being made redundant earlier this year. Through her work she says she learned even more about the pressures and workload of mature students.
“Through my work I have met people who may have failed before, but with a bit of prompting they can get through and everyone deserves that. I want to make sure my kind of student is represented really.”
Motivation after meeting homeless mum who studied
Jo is studying for a BA in English Literature and it represents a long-held ambition for the mother and grandmother who turned down a place at university aged 18 to take up an opportunity to emigrate to Australia.
“It felt the right thing for me to do at the time. Then along came jobs and children and I just found I hadn’t had time to return to study. Then one day, through my job as a HE advisor I met someone who had been made homeless, was having to care for her children and yet was still putting in time to study for a degree. I thought if she can do it so can I!”
Jo is about to start year four of her BA English Literature degree. She said:
“I have absolutely loved the course. It is really nice to have something to concentrate on that is really just for you.
“With the OU you can learn at your own pace, even if life gets in the way which suits me down to the ground. Generally, I like to get ahead and read up, but if I must stop for any reason I can, and then catch up.”
Jo says she did the course to “prove something” to herself and says it has made her family and extended family very proud of her too.
She is looking forward to contributing to her role on the OfS panel and meeting other representatives.
“I would like to make a difference. It is good to put these feelings forward and make a change, if you can, into how things are done in the future.”
The new Office for Students panellists will take up their posts from September and will join existing panellists who are continuing from 2019 and meet at least four times throughout the next year.