The Open University (OU) has helped Emma McQueen to make her dream of becoming a teacher a reality, supporting her to balance studying for a degree, looking after her family and being a full-time carer to her autistic son.
Before starting her OU Bachelor of Science (BSc) Open Degree, Emma felt that she faced several barriers to university study and working towards her chosen career.
“The financial implication of travelling to another university everyday would put a strain on our finances and, as I didn’t work, we have to rely on my husband’s wages alone… At the time my children were eight and ten years old and still needed a high level of parental support.
“My eldest son also has autism and I was classed as his full-time carer, which took up a great deal of time, so I couldn’t be away from the house for any prolonged period of time,” she explains.
After getting helpful advice from the OU, she was “over the moon” to learn that Higher National Diploma credits she’d gained at college several years before could be taken into account, “so before I began, I was one-third of the way to obtaining my degree”.
The flexibility of the study programme was amazing and really fitted in with my needs.”
She also found out that she qualified for a Part-Time Fee Grant, paying for all of her fees and making studying financially possible.
Balancing studying and the challenge of giving high-level support to her son, Emma found the “flexibility of the study programme was amazing and really fitted in with my needs”, allowing her to complete work while her children were at school and in the evenings.
She was in regular contact with her tutors who “were all extremely helpful and made me feel as if I wasn’t alone”, while attending tutorials helped her to prepare for upcoming tutor-marked assignments and final exams.
“I felt really part of a team and extremely well supported, they couldn’t do enough to help,” she says.
Emma, of Falkirk, further found the peer support from online student forums was “invaluable, and reassuring to hear when someone else is struggling to get their head around some of the things that I was”.
She was also supported and motivated by her family during her studies, with her parents helping with childcare and offering moral support, and her husband “giving me reassurance, kind words of positivity and plenty of cups of tea!”. She feels proud to have involved her sons in her educational journey, showing them what can be accomplished when you set your mind to it.
After gaining a 2:1 degree with Honours, Emma still feels “on top of the world” and is now undertaking a Masters course in Transformative Learning and Teaching at another university as the next step to gaining her dream job, which she says wouldn’t have been possible without the OU.
She urges anyone thinking about studying to be confident and take the first step. “Do it. Do not let self-doubt hold you back,” she adds.
This has opened up doors to me that I didn’t even know I could enter and I will always be grateful to the OU for providing me with this opportunity.”
“I never thought that I was clever or intellectual enough to go for a degree and thought that there were too many boundaries in my way to enable me to study, but my story is a case of what you can achieve if given the opportunities and support.
“This has opened up doors to me that I didn’t even know I could enter and I will always be grateful to the OU for providing me with this opportunity.”
Discussing her achievement, Emma says: “This makes me smile every time I think about it and I look at my degree certificate with a great deal of pride and confidence. I was sad at finishing with the OU, as the support I received has been amazing, but now I am on the next step of my ladder to success.
“From what seemed like a mountain to climb, the OU have made it manageable by breaking each step down, providing effective manageable timescales and supporting me every step of the way.”
Photo by Julie Howden Photography