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When life changes course: Stories from the Centre for Lifelong Learning

booksThe last 15 months could be described as extraordinary or exceptional by most people – but for students at the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of Warwick, living through a pandemic was just another hurdle to jump on their journey to achieving a degree.

Warwick’s Centre for Lifelong Learning is celebrating 30 years of its 2+2 degree course which allows people who haven’t gained the recognised, formal qualifications to access higher education and get a degree via an alternative route.

“Degrees are not gained easily, and adult learners will often have additional responsibilities, jobs and family to consider alongside their learning,” explains Professor Ruth Hewston, Head of CLL. “On top of that, this year, COVID and the implications for adapting to new ways learning and reduced access to campus, mean this year’s cohort have really had to use their resourcefulness and resilience.

“But our students always have a wealth of personal and professional experience which enriches our learning community here in CLL. Each year, my colleagues and I are incredibly proud of our students, balancing their studies alongside their work and family commitments – none more so than this year.”

The Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of Warwick is a centre of expertise in the education of adult learners, with a focus on enabling them to achieve their personal and professional goals by accessing a Warwick degree education, irrespective of their background. Warwick welcomed its first 2+2 students in 1991 with the aim to provide students without traditional qualifications the opportunity to study for their degree. Since then, CLL has welcomed thousands of students with the desire to achieve a degree qualification and further their careers.

Since 1991, over 2000 people have graduated from the programme, with 52 more due to graduate this summer. 32 students have achieved a 1st class degree while studying, often working and with family commitments. Many students have also gone on to gain further qualifications in teaching, social work and career development, whilst others have continued onto postgraduate research working for their PhDs.

“For some students, it’s about wanting a fresh challenge, perhaps they have come to a point in their lives that they feel they want a new direction, and for others it’s about achieving something they always felt was closed to them,” explains Professor Hewston. “The 2+2 degree allows people to begin their studies at one of our partner local college via an access course and then after two years, go on to finish their degree by attending learning on campus at Warwick.

“We are very proud of our students and the 2+2 programme continues to be highly valued by the University, as well as bringing opportunities for education and growing employability within the local community.”

Some adult learners gain their degrees and use them to further their careers, like former student Deborah Gajic, who was one of the first cohort of students to graduate on the 2+2 degree.

Deborah A chance conversation with a friend led to me enrolling on the first ever 2+2 Social Studies programme which was in partnership with North Warwickshire College (now North Warwickshire and South Leicester College) and the University of Warwick. My friend told me about this exciting opportunity at a toddler group we both attended. At the time I had two young children and had decided not to return to my career in banking and finance. Nobody in my family had ever gone to university, but it seemed an exciting prospect and a way to achieve my childhood dream of becoming a teacher.

The course was due to begin in September 1991 which was excellent timing for me as my oldest child was due to start school and my youngest could attend the on-site nursery at North Warwickshire College, the availability of a grant made this financially achievable. I quickly rediscovered my love for learning and made some great friends amongst my cohort, we developed a strong support network as the majority of us were parents with young children. In the first two years we studied Sociology, Politics, Economics and Law. Sociology was my favourite and I credit Ronnie White’s enthusiasm and inspirational teaching for this.

Moving to the University was a daunting prospect after the relative security and convenience of North Warwickshire College. However, the support network was yet again a great help as we organised car shares to spread the cost of travel and helped each other out with childcare where necessary. My love of Sociology was deepened by the wonderful Margaret Archer at the University of Warwick, she was a wonderful role model to me. It was a very proud moment when I graduated with a 2:1, all the hard work and sacrifices had paid off.

After graduating, I completed a PGCE in Social Science at the University of Leicester and became a secondary school teacher. After just a year of teaching, I secured a position as Head of Department. However, I now had to teach Psychology alongside Sociology, so was concerned about my lack of qualifications in psychology. My love of learning led me to complete a MSC in Psychology with the Open University. I enjoyed a great career in teaching until 2018 when I decided to change direction and become an Independent Educational Consultant. I now work freelance running CPD training for teachers, writing, assessing and tutoring students. My first book (a book for trainee psychology teachers) is due to be published this year, which will be another very proud moment.

The 2+2 programme really did change my life. Both of my daughters went to university (I hope inspired by my example!), one being a primary school teacher and the other a midwife.

Other students, like Jon Winfield, develop a love of learning and continue into research.

Jon WInfieldI was given details of the 2+2 degree from the University of Warwick in 2014. I had always regretted not carrying on with my education after leaving school, but I made some poor choices, and it did not happen because I had a job and commitments. When I looked at the course and the variety and options available it really appealed to me, so I applied. I had an interview and was accepted to start the degree at North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire college where I spent two years. The first year gave us all an introduction to the core subjects, politics, sociology, research methods and health and social policy. It was the second year where it all began to mesh together and I did a project on a policy introduced by the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher, this policy was Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. As part of the project, I learnt the joys of researching and discovering why things happened; how the media influenced what people thought and how government reacted. I still remember a comment made by the course leader when I said everything I read led me to want to read more – that comment was: ‘This is how a PhD starts.’

Years three and four were spent on campus at the University where there was so much choice about what to study. I decided to study what interested me and it is hard to pinpoint my favourite, but one module, Widening Participation in Higher Education led to the topic for my final year dissertation. My interests were definitely drawn to how much inequality there is in the world and how destructive it is to blame people for the situation they find themselves in. Most of the modules I chose showed how these inequalities are rife, for example how healthy high-quality food is unaffordable for many, maybe we were to blame for the ‘Horse Meat scandal’. I was also lucky enough to meet a range of people on the course with a variety of interests and saw some of them change significantly. One woman who had never voted before, became very politically engaged after our politics classes in years one and two, another friend even shifted their political allegiance.

As my undergraduate studies drew towards an end, I really wanted to get into the world of research so I could influence policy. Therefore, I applied for and was accepted onto a MA in the sociology department called Social Research and from there was accepted onto a PhD course looking at the benefits of employers providing good work in low pay sectors. This is a topic that fits in with my work experience and my beliefs that everyone should be paid a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

I have never regretted taking the decision to start a degree and it has changed me in many ways - all for the better. I have become more understanding, confident and inquisitive. When I read a newspaper or see the television news, I question the sources and the bias of the organisation reporting.

More information about the 2+2 degrees or alternative ways to access education at Warwick here.

Read more student stories here.


14 July 2021


Professor Ruth Hewston is Head of the Centre for Lifelong Learning at Warwick. Her professional and research interests centre on inclusive education, the psychology of education, particularly in relation to teaching and learning, and the education of highly able and talented learners. She has written extensively in her field, including contributions to books, presented at national and international conferences and published research articles.

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