#UNIADVICE – Never too late or too old to learn something new

Widening access to higher education to non-traditional students has become quite an important target for Universities in the UK. It is known to improve the outcomes and opportunities for people who would not otherwise get such chances. On the aspiring professionals hub, we like to share inspiring stories about people from diverse backgrounds with interesting and inspiring stories about their experiences or career successes. In our latest ‘Reflections’ article, Anna shares her experience of higher education as a late-starter aka mature student and hopes her experience would serve to inspire others.

I am 46 years old and in my second year of an MSc degree in Social Work. I was one of 5 children raised by both parents who struggled financially due to unemployment. I left school at the age of 16 with two standard grades- Music and Art. I then went onto work in a shoe shop under the Youth Training Scheme (YTS). At the age of 17 in 1988 I started working in a electronics factory, this led me to working in international companies. However, as the electronic industry began to decline, with many people facing redundancies, I decided to take the step and go to college where I achieved a national certificate and higher national certificate (HNC) in social care in 2005.

So how did you end up at University at a later age?

At 35, I gained full employment as residential child care worker in a residential school for girls with emotional and social problems. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the organisation closed down. I also became a mum and was left again thinking of what the future held for me. When my daughter was 2 years old, I applied and was accepted at University of the West of Scotland in 2010 on the Social Science Programme. I graduated with a BA Hons in Politics and Social Policy in 2014, age 44. Sadly, during my final year my Mother died unexpectedly, and I took a year out to care for my Father and daughter and then applied to do a Post grad/Masters in Social Work. I began this is 2015 and have 80 days placement to complete to become a fully qualified social worker.

What was university like considering you were a late starter?

Starting University was daunting!!! I was forever getting lost, but I made friends (some mature) and some in their 20s. We all got on great and student support between us was great. We were all in hand to support each other. I formed great relationships with lecturers who offered great support and guidance. As I went from first year to my final year I was lucky enough to build on these relationships and even today I still keep in touch with my lecturers.

What challenges did you encounter as a mature student and parent?

As a lone parent, I had to manage my time efficiently. I found it difficult to study around my daughter and didn’t want to be distracted studying when I was meant to be with her. I am an early riser, thus, getting up early in the morning and studying for two hours before my daughter wakes up is more productive for me as I find studying at night harder. Financially, I did ok, I was unable to work due to childcare issues, but I managed through financial support from the University which eased the pressure. I would be worse off on benefits. The University paid a considerable amount towards child care, so I’d advise to always check to see what support is available to students at their respective Universities.

Really useful advice. How are things shaping up in your career now?

Currently, I am about starting the last year of my masters’ programme. As it is a social work degree, there are many positions I can apply for. These are normally within children and families, criminal justice or community care teams and covers a whole range of needs.

Would you say your degree course is moving you towards your career?

There are always jobs advertised in local authority social work departments. So in terms of my career, I should be able to find employment within six months of qualifying.

Why did you choose to follow this career path?

I was drawn to this career path where I hope to work with disadvantaged children who, like me do not have the same life opportunities as other children. Every child should be given the same opportunities and encouragement to fulfill their dreams and inspirations, whether it leads to University or otherwise. I was the only person in my family to enter further education. I had a great experience at college and at UWS, and I cannot thank the lecturers for their support I received throughout my 4 years at the University. Without their encouragement and enthusiasm I would have struggled to manage as a mature student who would never have dreamt that university would be an option for someone like me. The believed in me and saw qualities in me that I didn’t know existed.

Every child should be given the same opportunities and encouragement to fulfill their dreams and inspirations, whether it leads to University or otherwise.

What advice would you give others in a similar position considering going to university as mature students/parents?

I would say to anyone considering University to go for it. If you want something bad enough you will work for it. Yes, it can be stressful and at times you wish you can walk away. Personally, I always wanted to support and help people and I wanted to be a positive role model for my daughter and give her a good life.

You are never too late or too old to learn something new. Follow your dreams because it can be your future.



Anna Scullion was a late starter to higher education and is currently in the second year of an MSc degree in Social Work at the University of the West of Scotland. To follow Anna, you can find her on twitter @scullion_anna


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#MyUniStory – The Dilemma of an African International Student

11669993-collection-of-african-flags-with-continent-stock-vectorRecently the APH met up with two vibrant individuals Brian and Belinda, recent graduates from a higher education institution in the UK. They are both passionate about supporting issues around global health and about Africa. In their two part opinion piece, they share their experiences as African students  as well as of interning in Africa (Part II). Enjoy reading and do share your opinions in the comments section.

Many Africans can only “dream” of the opportunity to pursue  quality training overseas at  Ivy league and Russel Group Universities of this world. Institutions to which the local education system that has nurtured our knowledge and skills through years of learning, contribute to the almost blind belief that there is no better source for top quality education and I dare say, developed intellect. It doesn’t help that our African education systems have hardly changed for decades, left behind by colonial masters whose teachings of everything from the alphabet to our understanding of African borders in geography and scientific discoveries of Alexander Fleming we still cling to. An archaic system that still equates learning with memory and teaches the partition of Africa, the prairies of Canada, and for some of us, a grid by grid map of New York City.

#WideningParticipation : BME & STEM Engagement – Can we do more?

Big Bang Fair
Image – Central Sussex College

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion focused on how to deliver diversity within Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). However it is still the case that a lot of work remains in addressing the underrepresentation of black and minority ethnic (BME) individuals, disabled people, women and those from socially disadvantaged groups in STEM.  In this article, Hephzi and Amara discuss how decision makers within STEM can engage with BME communities to ignite a passion for STEM in young people and create an awareness of career opportunities within these sectors.

Up until 2011, the concepts of ‘science communication’ and ‘public engagement’ were alien to me. I had never been to a science fair, a science show or even visited a science museum! I had never sat in an audience where someone or a group of people discussed the range of opportunities and possibilities which could arise from pursuing a career within STEM.

I belong to two categories classed as underrepresented audiences in STEM; I am black and female. My recent discovery of the variety of ways in which scientists engage with the public is despite the fact that I have always been interested in science. I studied all three science subjects – Physics, Chemistry, and Biology – as well as Maths for my A’ Levels and have ‘stayed in science’ till date – working towards a PhD in Cell Biology. So, how does one with such an interest in science have such a myopic view on the diversity of career pathways within it?

#PhDChat : ‘Athena Swan – Quest for Change or Another Tick Box Exercise?’

Image – Jason Corey

‘Opinion’ is our latest addition to The Hub. This is a space where writers can share their personal opinions about topical issues. In today’s article, a current PhD candidate* discusses her experience of becoming pregnant during her lab-based PhD. Should PhD candidates be treated as students (tax exempt stipend, no benefits) or staff (pay tax on salary, employee benefits e.g. maternity pay)?

I’ve been contemplating this post for a while – to write or not to write, to share or not to share. After careful consideration, I believe the story should be shared so that this issue can be debated by and with a wider audience. Perhaps this post can resonate with the collective experiences of others who found themselves in my position.

Women’s rights, equality for women and now promoting more women in science are hot topics today. But is it just another tick box exercise or an honest quest for change? What is the reality on the ground?

In 2005, the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) established the Athena Swan Charter to – ‘encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research’. A statement on the ECU website reads: ‘We support universities and colleges to build an inclusive culture that values the benefits of diversity, to remove barriers to progression and success for all staff and students, and to challenge and change unfair practices that disadvantage individuals or groups’.

Since its inception, many universities have signed up to adopt the charter and have put measures in place so women in the profession are better supported such as flexible working hours, Job shares and scheduling events during core hours (10 am – 4pm).