The postgraduate path to a new career


Sarah Stevens was working as a senior sister on a busy hospital ward and looking to progress her career. But she needed something that was flexible and could fit around her family commitments.

She knew she wanted to do an MSc in some aspect of healthcare, but wanted it to be generic instead of specialising in one particular area. She looked at possible options, but there were few resources to help her. Eventually she stumbled on the Open University course in Advancing Healthcare Practice that she is doing now.

“I needed a course which was flexible and would fit in with my life at the time, my work and my family. I didn’t have the opportunity to shop around too much as I was restricted by where I live and the other commitments in my life,” says Sarah [pictured].

For many like her who are looking for flexible retraining options it can be daunting trying to find the right course. It can involve hours looking through the websites of local colleges and universities – something few working parents have time for. A new website set up by the Higher Education Funding Councils for England, Scotland and Wales and the Northern Ireland Department for Employment and Learning aims to provide impartial advice and information about available courses. The Steps To Postgraduate Study website is designed to help prospective postgraduate students identify questions to ask themselves and universities when deciding what and where to study. It also provides links to information about other issues such as course fees.

Retraining survey
Many women look to retrain after they have had children.’s retraining survey* shows over a third of working mums have retrained after having children and many more are considering it, with the top reason given that their values have changed and they want a more meaningful job. For that reason many are looking at sectors such as healthcare and education.

This trend is backed by statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency which show popular options for mature women [aged over 26] include social science subjects such as social work and subjects allied to medicine [up from 8 per cent to 13 per cent of mature learners over the last five years].

HESA says 28% of the 25,685 women who entered full-time taught higher degree study in 2014-15 were mature learners. The number of mature female postgraduate students has decreased over the last six years, although that for younger students is rising. This may indicate that younger students are finding it easier to overcome perceived barriers to postgraduate study. These include issues such as finances, childcare and flexible training options.

With regard to postgraduate funding, there is help on its way for some from this autumn when new funding of up to £10,000 will be available for those doing full master’s courses. Check here about eligibility for the new master’s loan scheme. From 2018-19, doctoral loans of up to £25,000 will be available to any English student who can win a place at a UK university but doesn’t receive a research council living allowance.

There is also support for covering childcare costs, although what is available tends to relate solely to full-time students.

For many parents, having children leads to major changes in all parts of their lives as they rethink their priorities and how work fits with those.

Retraining offers the opportunity to reinvent yourself, particularly if your previous career does not offer the kind of flexibility that allows space for family life. One woman who has benefited is Henny Fordham. She was a radio producer for the BBC’s Women’s Hour when she had her first child. She says part-time work was not an option so she turned to freelancing, but, like many, found consistent work hard to come by. After her second child was born she did some teaching at a local further education college and found she really enjoyed it. That led to a distance learning PGCE at Greenwich University with much of her written work being done in the evenings when her children were asleep.

Three years later and pregnant with her third child, the family moved to Bristol and Henny signed up for an MA in Digital Media at the University of the West of England to develop my communications skills.

She says: “I spent one day and two evenings a week in the university. It was a good way to meet new people and it felt great to be discussing how the world was changing.”

By the end of the first year she had found a job using the skills she acquired and is now an editor of a website. Her husband gave up his London job and took on full-time parenting.

Henny adds: “Postgraduate study has been a really great addition to my life. It has kept my mind evolving, my work moving and set me up to continually develop professionally.”

*The full results of the retraining survey will be published tomorrow.

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