Article by Angela Atkinson
Life after compulsory retirement
‘Oh my God, I’m fifty-three and it’s tough out there now. What on earth am I going to do?’ That refrain went round in my head on an endless loop following the news that, after sixteen years or so in my place of work I was being forced out. Compulsory early retirement. It sounds horrible – and it was.
I was devastated and totally terrified. The future was a bleak blank canvas stretching endlessly out before me. But then came salvation in the form of my wonderful daughter:
‘Mother’. I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you apply to go to university? You’ve always wanted to do a degree in English’ – this was true – ‘you can get a loan and grant and then after graduation you could look at teaching English.’
Suddenly my despair turned to excitement and I began applying. By this stage I was a late applicant and didn’t get in –but only because they were full.
Now, to cut a long chunk of this part of my story short, I re-applied as soon as I could and this time was offered three un-conditional places at UWE in Bristol. So now I was in the happy position of having to choose which English programme to follow. Yay! Ultimately I chose to do joint English Hons of English and English Language.
So it was with loans and grants in place that I began my degree in September 2011. Last summer, 2014, on a very torrid day in July I graduated in Bristol Cathedral with a Joint English Hons degree 1st class. It was just the best day of my life!
Life at university as a mature student
So what it was like being at university as a full-time student with all those youngsters? You know what – despite my initial qualms it was great. Most of the young students were quite happy to engage with me and I soon made pals to go to coffee with.
The lecturers LOVE mature students because we are keen and have life experience to bring to our studies. The universities love mature students because they get to tick a diversity box on their paperwork.
It was a huge bonus for me that there was another mature student on my course. Luckily we got on well and became great friends. But it would still have been fine without that. Though there were one or two funny moments. One notable one being when my friend and I were collecting our bursary cheques. We were standing in the queue when a young student came in, looked around, and commented in a very loud voice ‘I thought this was the place for bursary cheques? Only it seems to be full of really old people.’ Hmm.
I absolutely loved my time at UWE and frankly I miss it terribly. I really miss being an English student.
Being at university has been life changing
But it’s been life changing for me. The subjects that I studied, the result I achieved and the experiences I got at university have all given me the confidence to move forward in life with my own small business: AA Editorial Services in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without it.
To anyone finding themselves in the position I found myself in and that is even considering returning to education I’d say ‘Just do it’. And if you’re not considering university education – then do so!
It’s three years you don’t have to subject yourself to the humiliations of ‘signing on’ and all that’s entailed there. And the chances are that, with a decent degree under your belt, you’ll never have to again I can’t guarantee that of course – but it improves your chances. And what do you have to lose? If you’re post fifty, female and jobless my answer to that is ‘Probably not much’.
It’s not nearly as onerous as you might think and universities often have all manner of support for mature students. It’s hard work yes but it’s simply so enriching it makes all the slog worthwhile.
I wouldn’t worry about repaying the loans either. Unless you end up earning mega bucks post-grad – and in which case it won’t be a problem – you’re unlikely to ever have to repay it.
Going to university was my portal into a whole new life. One beyond my wildest dreams really. And it could be yours too.