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Studying at the coal face

For Dr John Evans, the creation of the Open University in Wales in 1969 was a truly life-changing moment.

In 1970, Dr John Evans was two miles underground in Cwmgwili Colliery in Carmarthenshire when he came across an advert in a coal magazine for the Open University.

He cut out the advertisement, took it home and immediately applied for the OU, becoming one of the first students to enrol in Wales.

The Welsh valleys in 1970

In 1970, the coal and steel industry were the livelihood for most of those living in the Welsh valleys and higher education seemed near impossible. John said:

“Life in the Amman valley really went one way, coal mining. Until the advent of the OU, higher education was unheard of amongst our community.

I will never forget at my first OU meeting, everyone who was introducing themselves. They came to me and I said, ‘John Evans, coal miner’. Everyone looked up at me as if they couldn’t believe I was there.

Hard work pays off

Since finding the magazine article back in 1970, John has completed four OU degrees and a doctorate at Swansea University. The OU allowed John to study for his first degrees in Politics, Economics and Industrial Relations whilst continuing to work in the collieries, coming home after a full shift down the coal pit to read his course material. John reflected:

It was really hard work, believe me. I was going to bed for a few hours after work and then getting up to study.”

The OU has led John to become a teacher, lecturer and writer. In the 1980s, John even worked for the OU on their community projects, before going on to become a county councillor.

John equates the creation of the OU with the creation of the NHS in 1948 and says it has changed his life considerably. He was the first person in his family to obtain a degree and says that his OU experience completely changed his perspective on life.

“I hope that my hard work inspires my grand-kids to go on and pursue their goals too.”

Watch our interview with Dr Evans

About Author

Liz works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She has over 15 years' marketing experience working across a range of sectors, from diamonds to shampoo. She has a BSc (Hons) in Management from UMIST. In her spare time, Liz is usually found on roller skates or off travelling, having adventures.

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