Student Stories, Widening Participation

Doing Go Higher ‘Educating Rita’ Style by Paula Murphy, Class of 2012

There are probably a million and one different reasons why people become mature students. Many delay study because of family or work commitments, some are keen to study in retirement, and some people enrol to improve their promotion prospects at work. These are just a handful of the driving forces which bring people to university outside of the 18-21 age bracket, and the diversity of the mature student community is reflected in the diversity of our reasons for study. Personally, after dropping out of university at eighteen, I never saw a degree as being particularly important. I got a job instead, and though I secretly harboured ambitions to become a journalist, or to work in publishing, I didn’t allow myself to believe that these ambitions would ever become a reality. Then, when I hit the big 3-0, and in true Educating Rita style, I decided that I wanted to be able to have intelligent conversation, and I wanted to just know things.

‘I never believed that a working class kid from Bootle could become a journalist’

So, along with my rediscovered career aspirations, I decided to come to university simply because I wanted to learnFor as long as I can remember I have loved to read – my mum loves to tell people that I could read the newspaper when I was three (unlikely) – and it’s always been a dream of mine to convert this love of literature into a writing career of some sort. Even so, despite encouragement from teachers, I never really believed that a working class kid from Bootle could become a journalist, and this sentiment was sadly echoed by some friends and family. Basing their opinions on their own experiences, people would tell me I was doing well as a deputy manager in a pub chain, and they were thrilled for me when I came up for promotion. To them, earning £25,000 a year as a pub manager was a sign of success but for me, the thought of going for that promotion was completely soul-destroying. I didn’t want to continue working 60+ hours per week in a job I hated, I dreaded the daily monotony of pulling pints and doing paperwork, and the work/life balance was extremely one-sided. Eventually, I just got to a point where I decided that it was better to try and achieve something more fulfilling, and risk failing, than to be stuck in a job that I despised. It was at that point that I decided to take my life back and embrace my potential.

So, at the ripe old age of 31, I decided to follow my dreams, and enrolled on the Go Higher course at the University of Liverpool. I had initially been offered a place on an access course at a local college, and only stumbled across Go Higher after the college lecturer advised me that I was unlikely to be accepted onto my chosen course at the University of Liverpool. I decided not to be deterred by his negative attitude, so I checked the UoL website for entry requirements and as I was scrolling through the website, I spotted a tiny little tab which read ‘Mature Students’. Clicking on that tab led me to the Go Higher homepage, and was the first step on a truly life-changing journey of growth and personal development. In contrast with the pessimistic college tutor, the Go Higher teaching staff wouldn’t dream of telling a student that they needed to ‘downplay’ their ambition. Instead, they provided an extremely supportive network, fuelled by a genuine desire to help people reach their full potential.

Now, two years later, after graduating from Go Higher, I am coming to the end of my first year as an undergraduate student of English and History, and I often wonder what (and where) I would be studying if I had listened to that college tutor’s terrible advice. Even worse, I shudder to think what I would be doing if I had listened to my well-intentioned friends who advised me to go for that promotion and ‘stick to what I know’. Instead, I took the bravest step and listened to myself, and now my days revolve around lectures, seminars, reading, and more reading! It is hard work, and there have been days where the self-doubt has crept back in, but, in terms of self-development and enjoyment, it is all totally worth it.

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