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Ursula Boote

University Accreditation and Collaborations Officer

The Access to HE course opened a new chapter in my life and allowed me to go to university - it was through my studies that I found myself again.

Ursula's story

Prior to the Access to HE course, I was an ‘at Home Mum’ having previously been medically retired from my career as a Civil Servant at the age of 28. I started the Access course at the age of 36. Two of my brothers had completed Access to HE qualifications so I was aware of the possibility of completing an Access to HE course and then going on to university. I always had a love of literature and history and the Access to HE course at Liverpool City College ticked all the boxes for me. I graduated a few months before my 40th birthday.


The Access to HE course opened a new chapter in my life and allowed me to go to university - it was through my studies that I found myself again. I had a difficult time during the eight years leading up to starting on the Access course. I had several major surgeries, all of which stemmed from having a form of spina bifida when I was born and, for several years I was viewed as being sick and disabled. The course allowed me to shake off these labels and I truly found myself again.


It was initially difficult to manage my studies with my personal responsibilities, particularly because I left school at the age of 17 and worked full time to the age of 28. As such, being disciplined towards my study was a bit of learning curve. I was not working at the time, but my life was full looking after two young children. I had great support from my family and the college paid for my childcare which meant that I was able to attend the full-time course knowing my daughter would be collected from school and that my son was well cared for by his childminder.


What I loved about the student body was the diversity of backgrounds. This allowed me to be myself and my medical condition did not get in the way. The tutors were very committed and supportive, both academically and pastorally. Two were also university lecturers, and this gave me and fellow students a real insight into higher education.


The course was a mix of lectures, seminars and one-to-one tutorials, and this prepared me for what came next at university. I had a full timetable which was a bit of a shock at first, but once I got into the flow of the course, this was not a problem. As a returner to education and having been through a difficult time with my health, my confidence was lacking and the support I was given, particularly around presentations, was first class. Coursework and deadlines were fair, and again prepared me very well for university.


I treated the four years of study (one year on the Access to HE course and three years at university) like a full-time job – this was a way of allowing myself to be fully immersed in the experience. The course opened many doors for me in terms of growing my confidence, the importance of networking, travel (a literature trip to New York was a massive highlight), and I gained an insight in the workings of higher education and widening participation through my role as a course representative. I was also involved in several course design and approval events.


I feel my Access to HE course prepared me very well for transition to higher education. The Access to HE course was structured in a similar way to my university course and so the transition to HE was seamless. In terms of the academic work, moving from Access (Level 3) to the first year of my degree (Level 4) was a huge step up but so was the year-to-year transition across my university course. I was well prepared for the various types of assessment at university as I was used to assessment via exams, coursework and presentations.


I only applied to two universities because I needed to stay close to home as a student parent. I was offered places at the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). I opted for LJMU as the course was a perfect fit in terms of progression from the Access to HE course and the university offered ongoing funding for childcare which helped to remove some of the financial barriers to study for me.


For me, as well as gaining a first-class degree which was a huge confidence boost, I really did find myself again after years of long-term health problems. The confidence I gained following the Access to HE course is immeasurable. Before I started the course, I had become very introverted and lost all of my self-confidence following a long period of ill-health. My life was filled with hospital visits, surgery, recovery etc, and this cycle continued for nearly eight years - it was difficult to shake off the ‘sick’ label.


Even though I live with a lifelong medical condition, I am not the person I was back then. I am confident, more than happy to talk about my disability, and happy in both my work and home life.


Interestingly the two jobs I have had since leaving university are both linked to higher education. The first was working for AimHigher at two Schools in Knowsley – the whole concept of AimHigher is to promote university to underrepresented groups. My current job since 2011 has been working at Liverpool Hope University in a number of roles covering such areas as Continuous Professional Development (CPD), quality assurance, project management and, more recently, managing the University’s Accreditation and Collaborative Provision.


My advice to anyone considering undertaking an Access to HE course would be to go for it - do your research and seek out the best course for you. Since completing my course and knowing the benefits of Access to HE, I advised a friend of mine who had always wanted to be a nurse to think about an Access to HE qualification. She did and she is now working as a nurse having graduated with a first-class honours degree.


More recently my niece completed an Access to HE Diploma in Midwifery - she is in her early 30s and has two young children. She is now a full-time student at Edge Hill University and will graduate later this year.


I am truly grateful that the Access to HE course was such a positive experience for me, and I now have a career that I am proud of. You are never too old to learn. Graduating at 40 was amazing and it allowed me to re-enter the workforce and enjoy many successes in my career over the last 13 years.