Older students discovering that learning is for life

Peter Brown aged 53, of Nether Edge, who is studying a masters in archaeology at the University of Sheffield.
Peter Brown aged 53, of Nether Edge, who is studying a masters in archaeology at the University of Sheffield.
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It’s never too late to learn.

And nobody knows that better than students at the University of Sheffield’s Institute of Lifelong Learning – known as TILL.

From octogenerians studying French, to people learning fresh skills to start a new life, the institute’s pupils come from all kinds of backgrounds.

Many ruled out higher education in the past but are now able to study alongside existing commitments with part time, flexible and online study programmes that can lead on to degrees, master degrees and PhDs.

One of them is 53-year-old Peter Brown, who is at university for the first time, realising a lifelong ambition.

The former bank worker, of Oakhill Road, Nether Edge, signed up for an archaeology qualification after being made redundant seven years ago.

He said: “I was on the bus and only going into town to try to find an IT course when I saw the advert for the institute, saying people could do an archaeology course.

“So I went along to that and said to my missus ‘by the way I’m doing archeology now, not IT’.

“As a kid when I was about 16 I’d been on some digs but I had to cycle there and I just gave it up.

“When I left school you got a job, people from my family didn’t go to university in those days – that was for posh people.

“I never thought I’d be doing anything like this.”

Peter has completed a certificate, and then graduated with a first in his degree, with the institute. He is now studying for a masters in landscape architecture at the University of Sheffield on a part-time basis.

And he is able to discuss the ups and downs of university life, from trips to Snowdonia to learning about particle physics, with son Sam as he attends university in Northampton.

“It’s quite strange we are both at university,” added Peter, who has become a ‘voracious reader’ since starting his studies.

“Sam and I talk about university stuff. I actually borrowed a book out of the library that he couldn’t get in his university recently.

“He is studying geography so there is quite a bit of crossover.

“I’d say to anyone – grab the opportunity to study while you can.

“I think when people study a little bit later on in life they have a different approach to work – they are prepared to put the graft in so they generally do really well.”

Helping people to ‘rediscover their potential’ is the aim of a host of special events being held to celebrate Adult Learners Week, which runs until Friday.

The institute has joined forces with Sheffield Council, Heeley Development Trust and other partnerships to show people of all ages that it is never too late to learn.

Another student who has found a new path thanks to the institute is Ethel Maqeda, 41.

When she came to Sheffield as a political refugee from Zimbabwe in 2005, she could write English well but struggled with confidence in speaking it.

Part-time study on the creative writing certificate started her on a journey towards becoming a writer.

Mum-of-two Ethel, who is now studying for a PhD after completing a masters course and living in Nether Edge, said: “Coming to the institute boosted my confidence in the sense that there were a lot of different people doing the course for different reasons, and there wasn‘t the pressure.

“It was a relaxed atmosphere and it was people from very different backgrounds.

“It made me think it’s not too late, it’s finding out where you fit in and exploring and it gave me the confidence to just enjoy it.

“The aim is to be a writer – that’s the goal. I write about the experiences of my people who I grew up with in Zimbabwe.

“Some of them are good experiences about before the violence started.

“I never thought I would have the chance to do this kind of thing as I’d pretty much given up on the idea of going back to university.

“I’ve found the whole experience very positive and there is lots of encouragement.

“Even when I was back in Zimbabwe where I was involved with the theatre, in the job that I had, I didn’t quite believe in myself.

“Studying at TILL made me know what I could do. It just made me learn to believe in myself.”

Activities to celebrate Adult Learners Week are being held across Sheffield by the university this week.

They include a roadshow at Sheffield Central Library from 10am to 6pm today.

Tomorrow, from 11am to 2pm, a Click ‘n’ Cook session with Gleadless Valley Community Forum, takes place on Blackstock Road, Gleadless Valley, Sheffield.

From 10am on Thursday there is a Learning for All Roadshow, at the Winter Gardens, Surrey Street, Sheffield city centre.

Online help for all is at the Winter Garden on Surrey Street from 10am to 2pm on Friday.

Finally the week will end on Friday with a celebration at Birley Community College.

The events are open to all with no need to book.

Part-time students are now eligible for the same Government tuition fee support as their full time counterparts.

They can borrow the entire cost of tuition fees without having to pay anything up front, as long as certain criteria are met.

An open day for the Institute of Lifelong Learning takes place on Thursday July 18 and will help potential students experience a host of interactive taster sessions.

Visitors can also talk individually to course leaders about subject areas.

Visit www.sheffield.ac.uk/till for more information or call 0114 222 7000.