I've always been ambitious and wanted to pursue a good career but, in my early twenties, other important parts of my life left me with little time to make this a reality. I wanted a family and as such, chose a number of low-skilled jobs to earn a wage, while allowing me to have the time at home to bring up my kids. I'm a mum of five, so as time went on the dream of getting a higher level qualification seemed to drift further and further away.
If I'm honest, there was also a part of me that was a little nervous about studying in higher education. I'd never worked to that academic level before and at times doubted my ability to do so. On reflection, I believe it all comes down to confidence and if this is something you can't muster on your own then it is down to those around you to give you support. As an FE professional, students you work with might have the ability to progress into higher education, but lack the nerve to take the leap, have concerns about how study might affect their lives and may not understand the financial support that is available to them. Studying in a part-time capacity - whether that's at a higher level in an FE college or at a university - could be the compromise they need.
In my role as a presenter on the Student Finance Tour - a roadshow that visited secondary schools, FE colleges and community venues around the country - my presenter colleagues and I have spoken to over 170,000 prospective HE students. I focused on those in an FE setting and students who were considering a part-time route to complete their studies. Many students I spoke to were nervous about the cost of higher education and had spent a while weighing up their options. At times, speaking to them was like looking in a mirror at a younger me and my job was trying to extinguish their concerns, the same concerns I had also felt.
Part-time higher education courses can be a way for individuals with a lot of daily commitments to study at degree level. Those working full-time, bringing up a family, or caring for others all have priorities in their lives that mean education might take a back seat or the thought of it is too daunting to consider seriously. In my opinion, the support that is offered is vital for those 'non-traditional' students, of which I was one, to succeed. As you know, learning in FE can be flexible, practical and convenient and I believe higher education can provide these benefits too.
Finance is often a perceived barrier for those looking to study in higher education. But I was eligible for a government loan that covered my tuition fees and so I didn't have to pay anything upfront. I will have to pay it back down the line, this won't be until I'm earning over a certain amount and even then it will only be a small percentage of my monthly salary. When students look at the facts and understand the support they can access, it should ease any nervousness they have. I suppose it is like buying a house or a car. It may seem like big decision, but it is actually an investment for the future and the life they want. Investing in education, whatever an individual's age, is probably one of the most prosperous decisions that someone can make.
I studied at Warwick University and took Social Studies, which was a topic that really appealed to me. However, the challenges in my home life didn't stop once my course started. My dad sadly passed away during my time at university and my youngest son was diagnosed with autism. This is where the flexibility of my part-time course and support of the professionals around me came into its own. Even when things got tough I was never tempted to give up and knew that there would be a way forward with my studies. Expanding your education is something that you do for you and I'm so proud to have achieved it.
Students attending the Student Finance Tour over the last few months have genuinely enjoyed listening to my experiences. I hope this is what it feels like to be a teacher or lecturer - the sense that you are inspiring and supporting those you work with. At the end of the day, if I can make it work in my life then I'm sure others can too. Hopefully this is not the end of this kind of work for me as I'm interested in becoming a lecturer in Social Studies. I'm passionate about helping people to achieve their ambitions and want to be surrounded by others who feel the same way.
Zoey Rhodes is a graduate and former part-time student at Warwick University, and presenter for the Student Finance Tour 2013