School leavers with a degree of choice

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The Independent Online

Some people think taking an Open University degree straight from school just isn't the same as going away to a university. And they're right. You can study while holding down a job; you don't live in a hall of residence; you learn when you like; you don't spend a fortune coming back to see your friends and folks at the weekends; and you don't come out with a £15,000 debt.

Some people think taking an Open University degree straight from school just isn't the same as going away to a university. And they're right. You can study while holding down a job; you don't live in a hall of residence; you learn when you like; you don't spend a fortune coming back to see your friends and folks at the weekends; and you don't come out with a £15,000 debt.

A recent report showed more school-leavers than ever before are coming straight to the OU and it's not hard to see the attraction, when you consider that they could be earning money at least three years before their contemporaries.

The OU's "open entry" policy also offers an alternative for those whose degree plans are in chaos following disappointing A-level results. You don't need any qualifications to start an OU degree - you prove your ability by finishing it.

OU student Hew Evans admits that the disappointment of "messing up" his A-levels made him look for other options. "I didn't want to go to any university, just for the sake of it," he says. So Hew, from Irby, Merseyside, began studying for a BSc, which complements his job in the RAF. "The subjects tie in well," he adds.

Laura Nash wanted to earn money while studying. "The OU meant I came out of higher education with a house and no debts," says the financial administrator, who last year, at 22, completed a BSc in computing and information technology.

The OU was the only solution for social sciences student Sabiha who, as a young Asian Muslim woman, was not encouraged by her family to go away to university. "Islam allows every person to gain knowledge," says the 21-year-old healthcare assistant from Lancashire. "But culture says differently. The OU was ideal."

The Open University works with sixth-form students in schools across the country to introduce them to the advantages of an OU education. In Manchester, pupils studied alongside their teachers in a city-wide experiment hailed as an example of good practice in a recent Green Paper on education for 14- to 19-year-olds.

Teenagers who work nights, very young parents or those who need to be able to learn at their own pace, such as people with dyslexia or cerebral palsy, have all achieved a degree that they could not have attained without the flexibility of OU study.



Financial assistance is available in some cases, and the range of degree options is enormous. It's fun, too - the OU social scene is vast. "My studies have made me extremely marketable and given me a head start," says 23-year-old Nathalie Gower, who gained her BSc (Hons) in psychology last year. "Some other graduates have difficulties finding work which pays well because of their lack of experience in the marketplace."

Nathalie, from Taunton, Somerset, who is now a client development consultant for psychometric test experts, adds: "Employers see individuals who have gained an OU degree while working full-time as dedicated, self-motivated, disciplined and not afraid of hard work."

If you're unsure how OU study will suit you, you can try it out. Some people begin with a short course, which can be completed within two months; if you decide to study for a degree, your short course study can count towards it. If you doubt your ability to study at degree level, the preparatory Openings courses can be an ideal starting point to build confidence. Because Open University degrees are modular - made up of six or more separate courses - you can easily change direction to another subject area if your ambitions or interests change.

To find out more about OU study visit www.open.ac.uk or call 0845 300 6090

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