Thinking of going back to university? Evening and postgraduate study may just be the right options

Two mature students discuss why going back into higher education was the right move for them

Thursday 09 June 2016 16:26
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An increasing number of working and mature people are heading back into higher education to brush up on their skillsets in an ever-changing and competitive job market with evening and postgraduate study taking the lead as the two main options.

Universities across the UK are beginning to offer more and more evening courses for those who work during the day. Birkbeck, University of London, for example, is the only specialist provider of evening higher education in the nation’s capital. With classes usually held between the hours of 6pm and 9pm, students’ days are, therefore, free for study, work, and volunteering, giving learners the best of both worlds.

“Studying in the evening, supplemented by online materials, while working enables students to continue building their careers while gaining a qualification,” says Professor Philip Powell, dean of Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics.

“Especially, when a degree is in business or management, students are able continuously to apply their learning to their jobs and to bring their practical experience into the classroom.

“Students at Birkbeck also frequently tell us that studying alongside a cross-section of working Londoners enables them to build a network of professional contacts which stays with them long after they’ve graduated.”

And with the new UK Government £10,000 loan scheme for postgraduates becoming available for courses beginning this autumn, universities are also now able to help the country meet an increasing demand for highly skilled workers. The loans can be used to gain MA, MSc, MRes, MPhil, LLM and other postgraduate degrees, and are paid directly to students to put towards fees, maintenance costs, or towards other costs.

Here, two students share their experiences of going back into studying as working people:

Amina Rahman, MSc Management Consultancy and Organisational Change

When she decided it was time to make a career change, Amina Rahman, 42, knew she would first need to get back into the classroom. Making the leap from public to private sector employment wasn’t something she felt she could make without reskilling.

Her time at Birkbeck, University of London, where she was able to make that transition a reality, came at the end of more than two decades of employment.

She said: “It’s such a fascinating sector, especially as it was going through such a huge amount of change at the time, what with new government policies being introduced, and financial pressures being placed on services. This meant that the concept of the ‘fluffy charity sector’ was gone, and in its place was a competitive, professionalised delivery of service. I really enjoyed being part of that change.

“I found that having the skills from my work life, such as time management and being able to focus on a task at hand, I was able to apply that to my studies. So I think this meant I got more out of the course than I would have if I went straight from school.”

Eleven months on, Amina made her career transition dream a reality. In late summer

2015, she secured a position as a change management consultant for Chaucer

Consulting, which specialises in delivering technology and data enabled change for global clients.

“I was held back by this perception that the private sector wouldn’t consider a candidate from the not-for-profit sector, even though I knew the skills were transferrable. But I came to realise this was more of a personal issue, that I didn’t have the confidence to do this.

Having this qualification of a Master’s degree from a reputable university gave me the confidence and clout to make this change in my life.”

Tomasz Smyk, MSc International Management

Tomasz, 35, was teaching English in Poland when he began thinking about refreshing the skills and knowledge gained in his first degree in business administration. “I applied from Poland and was accepted, and then I bought a one way ticket – for the first time in my life – to start studying here in autumn 2013.”

While studying in London, Tomasz started his own business, Get A Free Quotation Ltd, in 2014 with the support of range of services provided by Birkbeck, University of London’s Business Engagement team.

“I have had a really wide range of support from the Business Engagement team at my university which has made a real difference to my future,” says Tomasz.

“I have gained so much from my studies – the academic knowledge from the course itself, as well as the critical thinking skills I’ve developed through intensive study.

“That people are working as well as studying means that they bring so much more to their studies – especially on a business course, they have so many practical skills and real world experiences to share which really enriches the learning experience.

“In the future I want to continue building my business – the Get A Free Quotation Ltd platform to bring together people looking for quotes for construction work and suppliers – and adding as much value to it as possible to get it into a position where I can sell it in the future.

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