UCAS Listings: Practical lessons in real life

Student profile: Sharon Bradbury, studying Business at the University of Staffordshire
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The Independent Online
Twenty-one-year-old Sharon Bradbury chose her Business Studies course at the University of Staffordshire because she wanted a course which would lead her directly into a career.

She's now completed her course and says she's been entirely happy with her choice.

"I got a C, a D and an E in my A-levels in maths, further maths and economics from my sixth-orm college. That meant I didn't have enough points to do my first choice, of a straight business course at Stoke.

"But when I rang them, they told me about this business enterprise course. It appealed to me because it was slightly different from the other business courses, and because it is modular, I could choose which options I want to take, and eventually my own degree," she says.

"Basically the course gives you a series of different routes to the degree.

"In the first year, we had choices which included computing, marketing, business ethics, entrepreneurship and understanding accounts. Every year you have to complete around twelve modules, and there are thirty modules in the three years of the course," she says.

Sharon, who comes from Oldham, Lancashire, says that the course has given her a really thorough grounding in what to expect when she enters the world of business.

"It's very much based on the 'real life', as opposed to the more strictly academic courses," she says. "We're learning skills like business negotiation and managing people. These are real skills which I can take with me into the world of work, and I know they'll be invaluable."

She says the course is hard work, but a lot of fun.

"I did have some problems with a couple of the modules - the finance and accounting parts and the marketing have been quite difficult. Sometimes it wasn't always clear exactly what the lecturer wanted, and despite my background in maths, the finance is really complicated."

"I've also been surprised at some of the things we've had to learn - like manufacturing. But the course is designed to give you an all-round view of how business works, so I think it is reasonable that we've looked at the issues around this."

Links with the workplace are strengthened by the fact that, every Wednesday, a guest lecturer from the world of business gives a talk. "This has been really fascinating," says Sharon. "It makes you realise that what you're learning now is going to be really relevant."

As yet she's undecided as to exactly what career path she'll follow. "I know I want to be involved in management, but I don't know where yet. I've had quite a lot of careers advice, and I have applied for a couple of trainee management positions. So far I've applied to posts with Pepsi Schweppes and Dunstalls.

"I'm trying to keep my options open and I'm really confident that I will get a good job."

"When I began applying for jobs, I found that the skills I'd learnt had been relevant to the workplace.

"All of our work throughout the course has been presented using a computer, so you could get a really professional-looking piece of work. Staffordshire has an excellent computer centre, which was always available to us.

"I've learnt word processing, and how to use Word and Excel. We've also learnt databasing, so that when I do start a job I will be able to cope pretty well immediately. I think that must be very important for employers, who won't want to have to start training new recruits on how to use a computer.

"In fact this is probably one of the most vital skills of the course, because whatever job I end up with, I'm going to need computer skills."

Staffordshire, which is a new campus university, has a vibrant social life and excellent new facilities, like the computing centre.

"There have also been a number of mature students on my course, which has proved realy interesting," says Sharon.

"It's meant that we've made friends across the age barrier, and it gives you a much wider perspective.

"There have been people on this course who are women returners after having a family, and those who want to change their career direction, or learn new skills. The course is very egalitarian in that way , and it's meant that you benefit from their experience, as well.

"If you're on a course which is just school-leavers, then you don't get the chance to talk to lots of different people, and be able to ask them for advice."

Sharon has retained her close links with the university, helping to run a summer scheme. Job-unting has begun in earnest over the summer, and she's confident she will have a post by September.

"Looking back there's no other option I would have wished to take," she says. "Initially I was disappointed that I didn't make the grades my college expected, but it hasn't proved a hindrance at all.

"If you don't get the A-levels you want, then in courses like business there is usually an option you can take instead, or take an HND and then move on to a degree course. There's also the GNVQs in business which are now available, which would really give you a head start on a course like this."

"I'm glad I've come out with a vocational degree, even though some people think they're somehow not as good as the 'academic' courses like history or English.

"The new universities are absolutely geared to these more vocational options, and they also have much closer links with the community rather than being real ivory towers.

"I'd recommend my course to anyone."