Course Guidance: You've got to have an understanding employer: Karen Gold speaks to a working student

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The Independent Online
Candidate: Paul Lizzi, 33

Qualifications: O-level technical drawing

Now: part-time BA Combined Studies, Sheffield Hallam University; working for Sheffield City Council as transport policy officer

'I used to be a lorry driver and then I was made redundant in 1986. I was unemployed for 18 months and I started studying with the Open University. I did an Arts foundation course, then a second-level course in information technology and social issues. That set me off learning.

'I got this job as a technician in the transport policy department of Sheffield City Council. The bosses there approached Sheffield Poly (now Sheffield Hallam University) about a qualification for the technicians that could be combined with studying for the Chartered Institute of Transport, and they came up with the BA Combined Studies.

'There are four of us doing it. It takes six years part-time, but I got credit for my OU courses, so I only had to do four years. I've got one year left. We do subjects like philosophy of planning, economics, anatomy of the public sector.

'Luckily the poly is a five-minute walk from the office so there's not much travelling. But you've got to have an understanding employer because it takes a lot of time. There's six hours a week lectures and tutorials; then there's your reading and essays. If you've got an essay coming up you're looking at two hours a night easily.

'We're with lots of 18-year-olds doing urban land economics because they want to be surveyors, and our outlook is completely different from theirs. We've already got jobs and we want to learn; they just want to get a degree as quickly as possible to earn a lot of money. We're there for an hour and then back to work; they can spend all afternoon talking or in the library.

'I'm very glad it's nearly finished because it's very hard studying while working. But I'm glad I've done it. We're all threatened with redundancy because of what's happening in local government, and I stand a better chance of getting another job with a degree. Learning just makes you so much more aware of things. I walk around the streets and I know why the street lights are there, what services are provided, what the transport implications of the Meadowhall Centre are. Going into a room full of 18- year-olds you realise you've got a better understanding of the world outside, and you bring that into your academic work too.'

(Photograph omitted)