Whether you are working on a new hobby or beginning a qualification for a change in career, the old adage ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is being disproven by swathes of ambitious, active and inquisitive people who wish to learn new skills or fulfil a lifelong ambition of heading back to school.
As people live longer and work prospects increasingly benefit those who have gained a variety of experiences, institutions like The Open University, or closer to home, Salford City College, provide a wide spectrum of opportunities to aid students in re-entering the learning environment on their own terms. Distance learning and part-time learning also helps to significantly address the imbalance of opportunities for those with disabilities or those with caregiving or family commitments.
JLife spoke to a national adult education provider to find out why it thinks learning throughout our lives is beneficial and, most importantly, possible.
Professor Josie Fraser is the deputy vice-chancellor of The Open University, the UK’s largest academic institution and a world pioneer in distance learning. Josie joined The Open University (OU) in March 2017, but describes her interest in OU and its mission as ‘long term’ after being a tutor on an OU MSc course back in the early 2000s – an experience that influenced her teaching for many years.
Josie started her academic career as a neurobiologist with interests in animal behaviour and treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders. Her BSc degree (Leeds) and PhD (Bradford) were followed with research posts at the Medical Research Council, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Returning to the UK, she took up roles as senior lecturer and then associate dean (learning and teaching) at the University of Bradford. During this time Josie’s focus shifted towards teaching and making a difference to a wide range of students from varied backgrounds.
I’ve just re sat my English GCSE with my local adult education. Definite improvement on when I sat the exam at school, 21 years ago. I got the equivalent of an A ?? #maturestudent
— ? Louise Rae ? (@loulour1982) August 26, 2019
How did you first get involved with The Open University?
Many years ago when I was new to lecturing, I did some work for the OU as an associate lecturer, where I supported students remotely from across the UK, offering face-to-face tutorials and giving academic feedback and support.
The experience had a huge impact on me and influenced my teaching for years at more conventional brick universities. I was delighted to return to the OU as executive dean of the faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and now as deputy vice-chancellor.
The OU is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, how has its mission endured over time?
The fact that the OU’s mission is still relevant, says a lot about how revolutionary it was in 1969. Back then we offered first class education to people who’d ‘missed out’, but as the needs of the workforce have altered with people living longer and having more than one career, there is a need to retrain, to re-educate, to upskill and change direction.
For most the idea of studying when you have a family, job, and mortgage is inconceivable, but with flexible learning and a fantastic support network, the OU can make this a reality. Our mission is not only important to today’s world, it will continue to be important in the future.
The OU aims to redistribute the opportunities of education to people of all walks of life – why are these opportunities so vital?
Everyone would agree that education can be transformative, you only need to meet some of our OU students and alumni. We pride ourselves in being able to support part-time students in combining learning with earning and have helped over two million students receive an education, otherwise denied to them at campus-based universities. We also support 25,000 disabled students to study and have scholarships for carers and disabled veterans. Everyone should be able to access education that can change lives.
Which subject would you like to study yourself?
I’d really enjoy doing something technology focused. Tech is a hobby of mine – it fascinates me how it develops so quickly, with interesting jobs and changes in society coming out of computer technology. If I started all over again, much as I’ve loved my career as a scientist, working with computing and technology subjects would be great. Languages is another dream, as despite being half-German, the only language I speak is English!