Applications remain open for The Open University’s Carers Scholarships Fund until the end of July, and with the option to defer your start date to September 2021, there’s never been a better time to pursue a desire to study.
As this week marks Carers Week, we’re sharing student stories from our caring community at the OU. Being the sole carer to her disabled daughter didn’t stop Karen from signing up for a degree at the age of 42. Read about her journey with the OU and be inspired to embark on your own.
I always enjoyed school and left at 16 after getting 6 ‘O’ Levels. I got married in my 20s and had two children, Michelle and Elouise. Life was good. But at 14, Michelle suddenly became very unwell and was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, which is a disorder that causes lasting pain throughout her body. Unfortunately, my husband and I divorced, and although I was living with my new partner, the care for Michelle was my responsibility.
Like many carers, my time was dedicated to looking after my daughter, as well as continuing to be a mother to Elouise and working at my part-time job. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a friend about her studies with the OU, that I got the drive to do something just for me. So, at the age of 42, I signed up for a BA Honours Degree in History – a subject that had been a firm favourite of mine since school. It was a challenge to fit studies into my already busy schedule, but I was determined to make it happen. When Michelle was having her home-schooling sessions or was at the hospital for appointments, and when Elouise was at school or I was waiting at the bus stop for her; I would squeeze in a couple of hours of study every day, where I could. My books and notes were constantly by my side, just in case I had a few minutes spare.
Studying was hard and I found it stressful when I didn’t have a lot of time. But for every tough week, there was three great ones and the joy of learning and expanding my knowledge kept me going. I even had the opportunity to attend a number of face-to-face study days, where I got to meet other students on my modules. It was an escape from my caring responsibilities, and it was freeing to have something that was all mine.
In my second year I had to defer my studies as Michelle’s needs increased. Pausing my degree was invaluable as I didn’t lose all the work that I had already completed. I was upset that I had to step away, but it was the best decision for me, and I felt fully supported by my tutors and the student support team at the OU. Removing myself from my studies for a period of time, allowed me to take stock and focus my attention on the more pressing issues in my life. When I was ready to return, I picked up my studies where I had left off and felt refreshed, recharged and prepared to embark on the rest of my degree.
I couldn’t attend a traditional university, as there was nobody else to look after my children and the higher fees would have made it financially challenging. Michelle was completely dependent on me for everything; but with the OU I was able to study at home and flexibly, so that I was always there for Michelle. When you’re a carer for somebody your world becomes consumed by their every want and need – being there for them is the only option. I wouldn’t ever change this, but the OU gave me another world to escape to, a world where I could concentrate on myself for a few hours. Yes, I was tired and it took a lot of mental effort, but my studies gave me a respite from my caring responsibilities and a new spark and enthusiasm that filtered through into everything else I did.
My advice to any carer who is considering studying with the OU, is if you are thinking about it in the first place, you already have the desire – give that a chance to grow, you may be surprised by what you can achieve. You can talk about your studies with the person you care for, it will be something different for them as well. Even if you wish to remain a carer, and your plans to study aren’t for a career, still think about doing something for you – it’ll change your perspective and will only better you as a person.
There’s no question that it will be tough, but it’s so worthwhile and will open up your world. The Open University has a special place in my heart – anything that helps people to experience what I’ve experienced is to be treasured.
Find out more
The OU’s Carers Scholarships Fund is now open for applications until 31 July 2020. We will provide 50 UK-based carers with funding so they can pursue higher education. Given the current circumstances we are flexing our study start dates so if applicants are successful, we can hold their place until the next academic year in September 2021. The OU’s unique flexibility means carers can study around their caring responsibilities and receive tailored advice and support.
To apply, please visit: http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/fees-and-funding/carers-scholarship-fund