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The Access to HE experience

Speaker key

DO Derfel Owen
JC James Coven
TL Thomas Lovell
JB Jamie Bridgman
LH Lauren Horton
JP James Prowse
PM Patrick Mortell


DO: Hello and welcome to this week’s QAA podcast. I’m Derfel Owen. This week is Universities' Week and QAA have been playing part by celebrating the success of our Access to Higher Education scheme over the past 20 years. The Access to Higher Education Diploma that’s validated by the scheme is a qualification that prepares students for studying at university and is particularly designed for people who may have left school without traditional qualifications such as A Levels. A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to catch up with some students enrolled onto Access to Higher Education courses to hear about their experiences and here is what they had to say.
JC: I am James Coven and I’m on the Access Course Combined Studies and I’m hoping to go to university to study English Literature.
TL: My name is Thomas Lovell and I’m on an education pathway hoping to go to Birmingham University and teach primary school.
JB: My name is Jamie Bridgman. I’m on a combined studies pathway and I’m going to Cardiff University to study Welsh History.
LH: I’m Lauren Horton. I’m on the education pathway and I’m hoping to become a teacher.
JP: My name is James Prowse. I’m on the combined studies pathway and I’m hoping to go to Sheffield University to study Japanese.
PM: My name is Patrick Mortell. I’m on the health and social care pathway, hoping to go on and learn to be a mental health nurse.
DO: What brought you to Gloucestershire College to do this Access course?
LH: I was working for a brewery before I came here. Good job, good prospects. I went into school, saw the creative curriculum and decided that I was in the wrong job and I needed something different, and this was definitely for me; teaching.
JP: Well, I actually already tried to work in the field which I actually wanted to all of my life, which is linguistics. I committed myself to a certain measure of vocational training and achieved a qualification but without a degree, I found it difficult to obtain employment which is what led me to get on the access course.
PM: It’s a complete change of career for me. I was working in construction before. My life has been dealing, basically, with a lot of people that have had mental health issues... family... so it’s been very subjective. For me to be able to help with them, I need to go to university so it’s been a long road for me, basically, to go to GlosCol and learn about computers before I came on this course and then hopefully, go onto university afterwards.
TL: I was a qualified electrician. I struggled at school due to a lot of personal issues and just the opportunity to be able to help and build young kids from primary school age. Thinking of that just made me wake up to what I wanted to do and being able to do something that genuinely made me happy, and this was the way to go.
JB: As with Patrick, this is a complete career change for me. I was in the air force for 12 years. After serving about nine years, I decided that I didn’t enjoy it and became disillusioned. I came down for interview and then, because I was posted up to Scotland for my final two years, I had an interview here and they reserved my place so I could go with the air force back up to Scotland. Then when I left, I came to college.
DO: Okay, well you’ve all talked about having jobs and so on, and worked previously. Are you balancing your studies with working now or are you doing this full time?
PM: Balancing isn’t really the word, is it?
LH: No.
DO: Trying to balance.
LH: From going from a full-time job, obviously, to the access, it was a difficult decision to make, especially in the recession. It was something that you really had to personally think about, well, I personally had to really think about it but I decided that the benefits at the end of it were better and obviously gave up my job and I’m here. But I am working; I’m doing part time work; only two days a week but I’m managing to survive on that so yeah, definitely. I think you have to try and make some balance there.
JB: To compensate.
LH: Yeah.
JB: I was previously renting a place when I decided to do this. Luckily enough, my mother was kind enough to take me back in so it was good that way. All the same, I just got a part time job to tide myself over.
DO: Well, you will all of had a sort of previous experience of education and so on, of varying lengths since you were doing that. How do you find the difference between the studying you have done before and what you are doing now on an access course?
PM: It’s a lot different because now, from when I was 17 at school, I thought I knew what I wanted and you just thought that school was just a pain to go to and you thought everyone was making you go there, and this, that and the other. Now I’m a lot older and I want to do this for me. I think we have all come on the course because we have realised that without a degree, we can’t get the job we want and that’s why we want to progress.
JP: I think it makes a huge difference in the atmosphere of the classrooms, the fact that everybody wants to be there.
LH: People want to learn.
JP: Yeah.
LH: Because we all know what we want to do and know what road we want to go down, and I think that’s what’s important.
DO: Lauren, you mentioned in there some people had said to you, “Why are you going back to school?” Is it really like going back to school or is it completely different?
LH: No. It’s completely different.
DO: Jamie, you’re –
JB: You’re an adult more. You’re not patronised, really, like you were in school. It’s more of an equal footing.
LH: And respect.
JC: It’s staff orientated, really.
JP: I think in a way, before we all started, they all sat us down individually and identified where we wanted to go and I think that helped with a lot of us because they have just said, “Okay, do these subjects. This will help you towards...,” because obviously, we want to go to interviews in the university so you can say, “I’m doing this, that and the other.” So they pointed us in the direction really well, I think.
DO: What do you think are the key sorts of skills or bits of knowledge that you have picked up?
JB: Time management, definitely.
TL: Structure, really, of essays. The evidence of work.
PM: Just working on computers.
TL: Proving rather than just opinionating.
JC: Going back to the real world, if you like. It’s fact. If you can do it, you do something in education: it’s all theory and you have just got to get your head around that and I’ve found it difficult initially when you’re writing essays and you have got to use conclusions. The teacher there is saying, “It doesn’t matter. There is no right or wrong answer,” and you’re thinking, ‘Outside in the real world, there is a right or wrong answer.’ You’re lodging that in your head, that there is no wrong answer if you can back it up with proof.
DO: And that issue of time management and so on; how difficult was that to get into in the first place?
JP: I think it was the shift just from your daily routine of a job to then having a part time job and having to come home from that and carry on with your studies. I think that was the main thing for time management for me because I just used to shove everything in my bag, get to college, open it up and then just close it back up.
TL: It’s continually changing as well. You have got a perception of what it’s going to be like and it evolves and it’s completely different at the end of it so you’re learning all of the time.
DO: When you had been applying for this course or preparing yourselves to sign up in September, you will have had certain aspirations and expectations of what it was going to be like. Was it what you expected or has it been completely different? What is the biggest difference to what you thought? James?
JP: Yeah. No, I thought it was going to be a bit more sort of rigid in terms of classroom management and also lesson planning. I’m actually quite surprised and pleased with the variety of lesson structures and so on that we have had over the course. A lot of group work which I thought we would have had a bit to do, obviously getting us ready for working with other people but it seems to be that a lot of the course is actually, really up to us at the end of the day to do it. At the beginning, it makes you wonder where or not they’re just giving us a short thrift and they’re just going off and having a cup of tea but it is for the very genuine reason that we are actually meant to be independently minded and cooperative adults.
LH: To some degree, we drive our own education because we have to learn; we have to read the books; we have to do the background work. We’re given the information there on the day but the background is so much bigger to what we have actually been taught in lessons so it’s a lot of research, a lot of time and it’s a lot of effort but it’s worth it in the end. So you can kind of see the end goal.
TL: They definitely prepare you for uni, don’t they?
LH: Yes.
JP: Yeah.
DO: What’s the best thing? What’s the best experience and the one thing that you have felt that you have really enjoyed doing?
JB: Like everybody said, everybody wants to be here and it’s not a case; the teachers aren’t battling to keep a class in control. Everyone wants to learn and it’s a good environment to be in. You know?
JC: Yeah. Good source of information. We’ve got some excellent tutors who are really well educated and can help us on anything we really need from them.
JP: Sorry. I was just going to say I think we’re all older as well and it’s more of a friendship with the tutors and teachers than it is just a student-teacher relationship. There is a lot of banter in class and stuff like that, isn’t there? It’s good.
DO: Do you find that... Have you built up a good network of friends and contacts on the course and so on?
LH: I think we needed to, definitely needed to. There are going to be times that; some of the people on the course have got children or their children can be poorly so we have had to rely on each other there for information because if they can’t come in then they need to give us a call and say, “Right, can you pick this work up for me?” And, “Can you make sure that that’s done. If I give you this, can you hand this in?” So I think as a group, we have kind of all come together. It’s not like school. I don’t feel like it’s like school at all. Everyone knows everyone and everyone will do anything for anyone so I think that’s the difference with school.
DO: Okay, so if I was, perhaps, a prospective student thinking of going into university and thinking of going through the access route and I was looking to come here, what would you say to me? First thing is what would you do to persuade me and what would you say to, “You really do need to think about this if you are going to commit to it”?
TL: I think if you know what you want to do, the information, support and resources are all there to be what you want to be. I would put it as simply as that.
DO: Jamie?
JB: I think you have to choose subjects that you’re genuinely interested in because that makes it so much easier if you have a previous interest in a subject.
PM: You’ve got to be focused, you’ve got to know what you want and remember that the tutors are there and they will help you.
DO: Excellent. That's great. Thank you very much for taking part in the discussion and best of luck to all of you with your course and your future careers, academic careers, whatever it may be. Thank you. Thank you for listening to this QAA podcast.
If you would like to learn more about the work of QAA's Access to Higher Education scheme, you can visit our website which is and if you would like to read more about the Universities' Week campaign, you can visit Universities UK's website which is
End of Recording.