FROM PARENTS' GUIDE: AN INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

Back to uni: Getting off to a flying restart

These days, it's never too late to start learning, as Vickie Osborne found out.

When single mother of two Vickie Osborne struck up a conversation with a fellow wedding guest three years ago, an idea once dismissed as a pipe dream was suddenly a real possibility. Today, the 38-year-old with three O-levels is a first-class honours graduate looking forward to a Masters degree in psychology, following a successful three years in and out of the library at the University of Kent's Medway campus.

Having left school at 16, Vickie got caught up in a succession of low-paid office jobs and felt academically unfulfilled, but was inspired by speaking to a student who illuminated the possibility of fitting a degree course around children and family commitments. Sure enough, Vickie found completing the course alongside looking after her children - Connor, 14, and Jade, 16 - a challenging, yet ultimately rewarding experience: "As long as you're organised, it just becomes part of your daily lifestyle."

Vickie is not alone: tens of thousands across the UK are swapping the office for the lecture theatre every year. "The typical student being an 18-21 year old is a myth," suggested Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, introducing a conference on lifelong learning. "Nearly every other student in higher education is a mature student. Higher education's role in lifelong learning is growing." Today, over-25s are in the majority. The government has strongly advocated increased participation in higher education in order to preserve Britain's global economic competitiveness.

Unlike Vickie, the majority of mature students elect to study part-time in order to continue with their full-time job. A part-time undergraduate degree will typically take around five to six years to complete. Some employers may even help fund an academic course if it is relevant to the job, and around 50,000 students in the UK are currently being sponsored to study.

Those unable to gain sponsorship may be eligible to receive financial support from the Learning and Skills Council (www.learndirect-advice.co.uk/featured/alg/), in the form of an adult learning grant of up to £30 a week. Parents with younger children may also qualify for support from the Childcare Support Fund. Adult learning degrees offer not just the possibility of academic achievement and career advancement, but also of personal fulfilment.

"When you achieve something like this it shows you what you're capable of and teaches you to value yourself," says Vickie. The potential for education later in life to enrich your personal life cannot be underestimated, opening a whole new range of social opportunities.

For many, attempting a degree in later life represents a chance to lay to rest the feeling that they under-performed at school. Admission requirements are often more flexible for mature students; a range of qualifications is accepted, and access courses provided by some universities offer an entry route into higher education for those without the usual academic requirements.

Those with extensive non-academic work experience may find themselves in an enviable position when it comes to starting a degree. "Because of all my work and life experience they were happy to give me a place on the course," says Vickie. Many universities have a Continuing Education department, and in fact offer courses specifically designed for adults.

Many older students discover that once they have caught the education bug, it stays with them for life. Not content with just using her brain, Vickie now intends to study its inner workings. She has developed an interest in neuropsychology, and begins a psychology conversion course at the Open University in January, with the eventual aim of pursuing a PhD. Supported open learning of the kind practised by the Open University affords another flexible alternative for older learners who have to juggle the daily commitments of family life. Vickie's message to others is that it is never too late to start. "I just want everybody to do it now! It's an experience that will stay with me for life."

Vickie's success has also been an inspiration to her children. Jade is intent on studying law on leaving school in two years and Connor is talking about going to university. Adult learning presents a real opportunity for social mobility: parents can inspire a new generation of children who would otherwise never have considered applying.

Parents interested in investigating the option of higher education can visit their local Adult Guidance Service or careers company for help and advice. The Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) also publishes a comprehensive guide for mature students.

News
Disruption at Waterloo after a person was hit by a train
newsCancellations and disrupted service after person hit by train
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The almost deserted Liverpool Echo Arena on Monday
tvCan X Factor last in the face of plummeting numbers auditioning
News
Kirsty Bertarelli is launching a singing career with an album of songs detailing her observations of “real life”
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + + uncapped commission + benefits: SThree: Did you ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + benefits + uncapped commission: SThree: Did you kn...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence