Back then, I was struggling to get an interview for any job paying more than £6 an hour. I had finally realised, having turned thirty, that my kids needs were increasing and if I wanted us as a family to consider things like college or university or even moving into a bigger house, I was going to have to find myself a career.
I quickly found that I enjoyed higher education far more than I had ever enjoyed school as a teenager. I was expected to get on and figure things out for myself. I was given projects to tackle rather than being given facts to learn by rote. Tutors were there to answer questions, not just tell us what to do.
I had believed until then that I was at best of average intelligence. That academically I would never excel. That ended when I received my first distinction for an assignment.
There was something about the practicality of the HNC that I just gelled with. I understood what was expected and if I didn't, I had the tutors explain until I got it.
After a few months, one of the tutors asked if any of us would be interested in progressing onto a degree course after the HNC ended. York College was considering signing up for the Foundation Degree program at the time. I began to wonder, could I actually get a degree? Something that had seemed impossible after a fairly disastrous fifth year at school.
By the time I had completed the HNC I had also completed my first two IT contracts, one of which doubled my previous hourly rate! An experience which transformed how I view education in relation to work. We moved immediately afterwards to Central Scotland, chasing a belief that there were more job opportunities, cheaper housing and better schools. I worked away from home for six months and although I began considering 'what next...' in terms of studying, two years of night classes and countless weekends spent studying had left me cautious about tackling a longer qualification.
I think it was early 2007 when several thoughts and dreams coalesced into a definable plan for my future. I've been somewhat haunted by a minister who mentored me in the early nineties. He used to ask me what I wanted to be doing in five and ten years time. He advised me to consider the future and plan towards it. At the time, I didn't believe I was capable of making such a plan. I had little confidence in my ability to choose a direction and stick to it. Certainly, the first fifteen years of my working life were a succession of widely differing roles. I had a lot of fun and was able to travel, to gain experiences that I still value but there was little consistency and after each different job, the next interview became that little bit harder as I tried to explain why I had moved on.
Since I was a child, I have wanted to write and wanted to complete a novel. I now added to that dream the goal of achieving a degree and also to earn the seemingly unattainable salary of £40,000 in a year. These became my three life goals and I secretly set myself the task of achieving all of these by the age of forty. I signed up for my first OU module in 2007.
Receiving distinctions for the bulk of my HNC modules I was disapointed to be unable to do the same for my first two OU modules. I set Goal 55: To get the highest grade pass for the next Open University course I am taking - as I firmly believe that we get our best results if we aim as high as we can. I never did achieve a distinction in an exam or end of year project and although I received distinctions in a few assignments, it just wasn't enough to achieve this goal.
On the second of August 2011 I received my results for the last module I needed to complete a degree with the Open University. For A215 Creative Writing I received a grade 2 pass. This finally gave me the 300 credits I needed for a degree:
- 120 credits transferred in from the HNC saving me at least two years of level one study
- 60 credits at level 2 Java modules (M255 and M256)
- 60 credits at level 3 for T306 Managing complexity: a systems approach
- and 60 credits at level 2 for A215!
The weeks since have been somewhat anticlimactic. I find myself whispering to myself every now and then - I have a degree. I do. It has been a long hard slog. Very satisfying at times but at the cost of many evenings and weekends away from my wife and children who have been incredibly patient.
I now have a Bachelor of Science Open degree. I hope to attend a ceremony early next year, wear a funny hat and smile broadly as I receive a scroll while being applauded.
It has been worth it. I am sure that each interview has gone that little bit easier as I have said I am studying towards a degree. Employers do value people who put effort into increasing their knowledge and skills and I have done both.
I have also made some good friends - though this has been harder while taking OU modules. The distance learning aspect works against this benefit.
Goal 34: To finish and complete my degree - Done!
Mark Smith BSc