Degrees of pleasure

5th November 2004 at 00:00
She may not feel like it, but mother-of-three Eleanor Whitson is a trailblazer. Last year she was the first student to take an undergraduate unit in European politics at Stirling University as part of her HND course.

She is now following a degree course at the university, having gone directly into the third year.

The semester last year was a great preparation for her, she says. "I learned so much about the university and the support networks that are available. The tutors were very approachable and helpful and I learned how to write essays to the required standard."

Ms Whitson worked in accounts for 20 years before joining an access course at Falkirk College. Later she started an HND course, hoping to study behavioural psychology and work with children. But she always had an interest in politics and decided to change course.

She finds the volume of required reading hard to complete, particularly when she has to work 20 hours a week to support herself. Most of her studying is done in the evenings at the university where she has access to the internet and can discuss coursework with fellow students.

The best thing about being at university is meeting other students, she says. "The views of international students on the course make you think about British politics in a new way. It's very stimulating."

When Eric Laird was made redundant from his job as a diesel engine mechanic, he took on the main responsibility of looking after his young children while his wife, a psychiatric nurse, went back to full-time work.

It was not until later that he was able to attend Clackmannan College of Further Education to study three Highers. When he started at Stirling University, some things came as a surprise.

"At college I was mixing mainly with mature students, but at the university most in the class were young. At first I didn't think I would fit in, but I got over that fairly quickly, thanks mainly to the attitude of the others in the class."

Mr Laird's wife was encouraged by his experience and decided to enrol for a part-time degree course. Their domestic arrangements became somewhat tumultuous. "For a while it was fairly crazy," Mr Laird explains. "I was studying full-time, my wife was studying part-time and doing a full-time job, our elder son was studying for his Highers, while the younger one was doing his Standard grades. We were tripping over books everywhere in the house."

He graduated with honours in sociology and social policy and now has a non-academic job at the university during the day and teaches adult classes in the community in the evenings. He believes that telling his students about his own experiences encourages them to think about taking their studies further.

After six years of study, his wife graduated too. She is now thinking about taking another course, possibly in psychology.

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