First-class solution for a top maths wizard

Rather than go to university at 13, Stephen Brooks chose the OU, writes Sarah Cassidy
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An 18-year-old mathematician has become the second youngest student to graduate from the Open University after achieving a first-class maths degree. This is not the first time Stephen Brooks, from Abingdon, has broken academic records – aged 13 he stunned teachers and academics when he became one of the youngest students ever to gain an A grade at A-level maths.

Wary of the fate of many child prodigies who rush straight to university life, Stephen chose to stay on at school and increase his mathematical skills with Open University courses rather than become a full-time undergraduate at such a young age.

He eventually took up a place at Oxford University three years later to study mathematics, and studied for the two degrees side by side. Now in his third year of a four-year degree at Oxford University, Stephen says: "I had heard a lot about people who went to university at an early age only to have things go badly wrong for them on the social side of things. I didn't want to do that, but it would have been very difficult for my school to support me doing university-standard maths. The Open University was the ideal solution.

"There wasn't the pressure of a traditional university degree. It was hard work, but the two universities have very different academic years so I could do most of the OU work in Oxford's long vacation."

Stephen was only beaten to the title of the OU's youngest graduate by Matthew Trout from Lancaster, who graduated last summer aged just 17. Most of the university's students are aged between 25 and 45, although the oldest ever graduate was 94.

Stephen is one of 10,000 people who will graduate from the Open University this summer. Since it was established by Royal Charter in 1969, more than two million people have studied with the OU, a quarter of a million of whom have graduated with OU degrees.

Also receiving her degree this summer is June Davies, from Torquay, who achieved a first-class humanities award despite being hit by a rare life-threatening illness and spending five weeks in a coma. "I was about six weeks away from completing the last part of my final project when I became very ill with a rare flesh-eating bug and was moments from death," says June. "I was in a coma for five weeks and during that time my husband found my unfinished work and sent if off to the Open University. They didn't worry about the fact that it was not finished and I got a first."