It's over 40 years since the first OU students became graduates …
and thirty four years since I started studying with the Open University. It changed my life.
I left grammar school in 1973 with 4 O levels and no idea of a career path. My father couldn't see the point of me studying beyond the age of 16 so I had to leave school. I was still 15, my birthday wasn't till the end of August. I had wanted to take an OND in business studies and then an HND in hotel management.
I had 20 jobs by the time I was 20 including working as a finance clerk, hotel housekeeper, quality control inspector and sales assistant. At 21 I joined the Post Office as a counter clerk in Northwich, a market town in mid Cheshire.
At 23 I started studying for a degree with the Open University, my sister had gone to University and I wanted to see if I too could get a degree. But it was hard, I was very nervous but always seeking to be prepared I did some study skills courses through my union in the months leading up to the course starting.
I'm not sure I even had a video player when I first started studying, I'm sure I had to stay up late or get up early to watch TV. Many people loved the OU videos and there is a great BBC web video you can watch.
My first course was a social science foundation course D101 and I was grateful for a lot of support from both my tutor and my fellow students, I really was the baby of the group. summer school was scary but fun. Throughout I worked hard, and when it was the royal wedding (Charles and Diana) I spent the day writing an essay on attitude change. I was delighted to get a distinction that year.
Year two was much harder. I took D207 (weird how I remember the course numbers) in Sociology and found it ever so hard. I was getting scores in the 50s not 70s and struggled, but once I took a Marxist perspective I got better grades!
Year three I took my second foundation course – you had to take two foundation courses back then. I took the Arts foundation course A101 and I loved it. I had gained in confidence, was more likely to speak up, made good friends, and learnt to love musical criticism. I also learnt to study smart and from this year on always skipped a complete module to give me more time for revision, I knew I wasn't going to revise the full course, you could skip one essay a year so this was a smart study decision.
I learned to work hard and smart, giving myself a limited time to complete an essay due to family commitments.
Year 4 and I took two half credits, an introduction to Psychology and a third level course in Criminology, I remember a massive course text book and reading it by the pool on holiday in Tenerife. My course books were always with me. By now I was working in Manchester, I had a 45 minute train journey each way which was great for studying – course modules, note book and pen in my bag at all times.
This was the year I realized if I continued to take psychology courses I would get a degree recognized by the British Psychological Society which seemed a smart move. Overall I studied for 8 years, you now can get an OU degree in 6 years and I continued with Social Psychology, Child Psychology, Cognitive Psychology and Research Methods. In 1988 I gained an upper second class honours degree.
I was lucky, working for The Post Office they contributed to the costs – 80% of my fees, 50% of my books and some time allowed for summer school and revision. I was incredibly thankful and loyal.
Whilst working towards my degree I steadily gained promotion – from junior manager to welfare officer, a middle management position and I was both the youngest ever and I think the first with a degree (you got an ordinary degree after 6 years). My involvement in the Open University Student Association (OUSA) was helpful – I was on the local branch committee with responsibility for student welfare, and also worked as a summer school rep and set up the OU Vegetarian Association
Around the time I gained my honors degree I was promoted to Senior Psychologist, and alongside my degree my counseling background as a staff counselor was helpful.
The Post Office continued to support my studies and paid for me to take a MSc in Occupational Psychology again part time, this time via Birkbeck College, University of London. A few years later, and a few more promotions I was by then a senior manager working in Organisational Change, good in all aspects of psychology but not with a strong business background so back to the Open University to study for an MBA starting in 1992, and completing in 1998.
I've had a successful career, I still have, now working for myself as a self employed career psychologist.
I will be forever grateful to the Open University. Who knows what I would be doing without out, certainly not a psychologist.
Alas now the fees have increased substantially taking the OU beyond the reach of people like me. Yes, people can get loans, but I'd never have started without the support of my organisation. I really wish it was available to help more people achieve life time goals.