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“The OU completely changed my life”

Science was the one subject Ray Barber loved since he was a boy.  Working as a college technician with no qualifications, he embarked on an OU degree and his life took an amazing turn; which he credits to the qualifications he gained with the OU.

He’s since travelled the world with his work, including a memorable trip to NASA. He was the lead in setting up the inaugural Star Centre in Bradford, to encourage children to consider STEM and engineering careers.  In the run up to the Moon Landing anniversary, we talk to Ray about his experiences and his love of space:

“I hated school”

“I came from a council estate in Bradford and went to a local comprehensive school which I hated. Science was the only thing I loved about school. I left with no qualifications, and with my love of science I secured a job as a trainee metallurgist.  When the company closed, I was offered a job as technician at a local college.  

“I realised I had desire to teach, but knew my prospects were limited without a degree. It was then I looked at the OU and decided to enrol. I studied for an Open Degree, choosing the science and technology modules with some arts ones as well.  

“I remember my kitchen turning into a science lab with all the equipment in the home experiment kit I had delivered as part of the module. I loved receiving those boxes!” 

“My wife got used to me getting up at unearthly hours to watch the lectures on the BBC, and listed to the programmes on the radio too.  I used to travel all over the country for the summer schools from Stirling to Sussex; my favourite one was in Durham where it focussed on geology.  I graduated in 1984 with my wife and new born son beside me at Leeds town hall (pictured above).

A chance to travel

“I then started to teach science part-time whilst still being a technician.  I then solely became a teacher and had the opportunity to go to Egypt for 2 months to set up a lab over there and show the teachers how to use all the equipment. “

On his return from Egypt, Ray became a full-time lecturer at another college and a teacher exchange to Australia followed. He continues:

“On my return, I was promoted to Head of Engineering and stayed in this role for several years.  Following the demise of Engineering manufacturing I was asked to take on a role as head of a regional development agency funded project, building, equipping and operating a space themed centre within the college, called The Star Centre.  

The Star Centre

“The Star Centre’s aim was to encourage school children into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects as there was a national skill shortage in this area.   We recreated a mission control, had a planetarium dome and a planetary surface for children to walk on in spacesuits to feel like they were in space.  

School children sat at Mission Control computer terminals
Students in their recreated Mission Control

“The centre was a great success. Over the years I was fortunate enough to travel to Russia in 2005 and take a group of school children to take part in the International Space Olympics in Moscow. We went to the USA to visit NASA and the Kennedy Space Centre and to Europe to the European Space Agencies in France and Holland.  

The Star Centre team pictured with Astronauts
The Star Centre team pictured with Astronauts

“I have recently been asked to come out of retirement as the Star Centre needs a new home; the college can no longer fund it.  We have created a community-based enterprise group and are trying to secure funding to relocate the centre so it can continue its work with children and exciting them about STEM subjects.  

“To anyone thinking of starting an OU degree, just go with it.  Sometimes it will be hard and demanding but you will enjoy it and it’s a fantastic sense of achievement.

The OU completely changed my life; without my degree I would not have had the career I have had.”

About Author

Louise is part of the External Communications Team, working with Media Relations and Social Media Engagement Team. When she is not working, Louise is studying for BA (Hons) in Creative Writing and English Literature with the OU. Louise enjoys playing netball, reading, watching her beloved Chelsea FC and motorsport, while raising 2 boys.

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