Jake went on to study for a Bachelors degree in International Politics from Aberystwyth University, and a Masters degree in International Relations from the University of Sussex.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the Open University (OU) gave me a second chance in life. My academic path to where I am now – working for techUK - has been far from typical and beset by several challenges along the way. The most fundamental of those challenges was when I dropped out of secondary school when I was a teenager, struggling with my mental health and a school environment that just wasn’t working for me. I’d always loved education, and I still do, but after I left school, I struggled to find an alternative to mainstream schooling to effectively fill that void.
As this was happening, my mum was studying a degree through the OU. I watched her work incredibly hard, speak so highly of the OU as an institution, and eventually graduate with a well-earned first-class ‘open’ multi-disciplinary degree – a flexible qualification offered by the OU that allows the building of a qualification that’s unique to you.
As I faced the unavoidable reality of adulthood when I turned 18, I was overwhelmed with a sense of panic and lack of direction that spurred me to make changes, even though I was swimming against the tide. I sought employment and got my first job but, more importantly, I enrolled on the OU’s Politics, Philosophy and Economics degree scheme part-time so I could study alongside work. Without a qualification to my name, the OU welcomed me with open arms and gave me the opportunity to rediscover my love of education and thirst for knowledge.
After thinking and overthinking (and overthinking again), it became clear that enrolling with the OU came with a myriad of benefits. In terms of funding, I was able to take out a student loan to cover my fees, just as if I were to have gone to a brick and mortar university, though other forms of funding are available. For low-income students or students on benefits, the OU offers bursaries and other financial assistance for study-related costs, whilst a means-tested Disabled Students’ Allowance is available for disabled students.
The fees are also considerably less than any other higher education institution and studying an honours degree to completion with the OU is currently two thirds the cost of studying at a brick and mortar university. Before you start your course, the OU provides you with everything you need to study – either online or through the post – with every resource catered specifically for distance learning so that you can study anywhere. Materials come in a variety of formats as standard, such as print, online and audio-visual, and the OU prides itself on offering a fully accessible course for students; making alternative arrangements where required. Although studying through the OU does not make you automatically eligible for a maintenance loan, the flexibility of distance learning, and this remote accessibility, allows students to find the balance that works for them; whether studying part-time or full time.
As I took my first step into higher education, fresh off the back of beginning a new job, the OU’s commitment to providing its students with all of the tools, resources and materials required to complete its courses helped me overcome any anxieties I had about taking on a new and unfamiliar challenge.
The committed and friendly tutors, alongside the ever-helpful student body, helped me rebuild my confidence and provided all the support I could’ve hoped for. I built a strong relationship with my tutors, who struck the perfect balance between positive encouragement and constructive feedback. As I studied, online tutorials and seminars offered a comfortable and receptive environment in which to explore my thinking and tackle new ideas and concepts.
I was able to build my understanding of an entirely new subject area alongside my fellow students, through discussions based on accessible common materials and guided by a study plan which kept me on track whilst encouraging critical thinking at every turn. For the modules I studied, assessments were structured in a shorter but more frequent manner, forming an iterative process that allowed me to move naturally through the course and facilitating an invaluable understanding of my progress.
Just as my mum did before me, I became a member of several OU student and module groups on various social media platforms, as well as the OU student forum, and made new friends – young and old - who were along for the ride. Not only did these groups and forums offer a place to get academic support, they offered the moral and emotional support that can often be required as you battle through a degree!
The OU offered others around me doors and opportunities to new careers, allowing them to retrain in a new field or discover a new passion in an open and accessible environment. For me, it provided a pathway back into education where all other routes seemed blocked.
I completed a year with the OU part-time and utilised my credits to gain an interview at Aberystwyth University, which lead to me subsequently enrolling there on a three-year International Politics undergraduate degree scheme. Upon completion of my studies in Aberystwyth, I attained a First Class degree and was awarded the International Politics Dissertation Prize for receiving the highest grade for my dissertation in the department.
Later, I went on to study a Masters degree in International Relations at the University of Sussex, where I furthered my academic success by graduating with a Distinction. This would have been impossible without the opportunity afforded to me by the OU and the glowing reference given by my OU personal tutor, who implored me to take chances and better myself every step of the way.
Open by name, and open by nature, the OU helped me build the perfect foundation for my return to education, and allowed me to go on and achieve future academic success at both a Bachelors and Masters level.