Open Eye: 'What it means to me...'

Three students sum up the experience and benefits of their Master's programmes

Martin Heighway was an MA in Education student when he became famous for his speed on the buzzer in University Challenge last year. A science teacher at a comprehensive school in the Portsmouth area, he's now completed his MA and gone on to study for Doctorate.

"I've been teaching for four years - before that I was a biochemist. I took the MA to progress my career - the beauty of the OU is you don't have to give up work.

"Coming from a background in empirical science, I found the MA study quite different. The course I enjoyed most was Education, Training and Employment - now called Education, Training and the Future of Work - which I found very solid and concrete in its approach.

"I found it difficult to study in the evenings - after a hard day's work, I just didn't want to get my books out. So it helped that the cut- off date for TMAs (essays) coincided with vacations!"

Paddy O'Reilly is studying his first course in the MSc in Development Management, with the aim of launching a career in overseas development.

Formerly a consultant to the Canadian forestry industry on issues of resource management and biodiversity, Paddy has given up his successful and well-paid career to work in overseas development.

He is currently on a year's placement with Oxfam in Oxford.

Paddy's work placement and OU course is part of a year-long programme run by the School for Social Entrepreneurs, set up to further innovation in the voluntary sector: "Part of the curriculum allows people to pick an OU course appropriate to their area."

He chose the Master's course to familiarise himself with a new field of work: "To break into the development world from the business world is a difficult transition, they are two distinct cultures. The terminology and procedures in development are new to me. Some of the ways in which things are done are quite different from the corporate sector. I think it is a brilliant course, in terms of content and structure, and the tutor is superb."

Eric Burns, from Chelmsford, worked in development in Malawi in the 70s and 80s. Now, at 51, he is contemplating going overseas again, and is currently studying Capacities for Managing Development while working full time: "The field has changed tremendously and there are things which are very important but of which I have had no experience," he says

Eric has also found the new skills is learning useful in his job as deputy head of environmental services for Chelmsford Council, and his employers have agreed to pay half the cost of his study.

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