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Heidi Daniels

When Heidi Daniels left the bank she'd been at for many years finding fresh employment was tough. Although she'd worked her way up to senior management, she had no qualifications to attest to this, having left school with just one O level. So to get her career back on track she enrolled with the OU, just a course at a time at first then gradually built up to a full degree.  Her studies have made her more confident and her manager and fellow colleagues have noticed improvements in her work.

Heidi used social media during her studies and made friends while attending tutorials.

I left school at 16, with virtually no qualifications - just a CSE Grade One in Religious Studies, equivalent to an O level. After a few years doing short-term jobs in the entertainments industry, including a few seasons as a Ladbroke Bluecoat, I started work in a bank and worked my way up, as you could back then. I left the bank when all the trouble started with mis-selling and it became a very unpleasant place to be. It was then I realised I was a bit stuck! I'd worked my way up to being a senior manager but I had nothing to prove my management or leadership skills. No qualifications and you need them now. So after a few months off, wondering what to do next I applied for a short-term administration job at Careers Wales and was lucky enough to be kept on. Again I progressed up the ladder but this time I decided I would get some qualifications to prove what I could do.

I started studying with the OU eight years ago as my husband had begun a course with the University and I thought if he can do it, maybe I can! Also I was bored in the evenings now as he was always studying! It made a lot of sense for us both to be enrolled at the same time. I started with just the one course to see how I got on. With the OU you don't have to sign up for a degree. You can take courses bit by bit and build up to a degree that way if you want. So I began with French which I'd always liked, and because you can combine French with lots of things. When I achieved the Certificate I then went on to complete the Diploma. That gave me half a degree so I decided to push myself and go for the full BA (Hons) in Business Studies with French. I worked full time throughout.

If you're worried about the cost you can pay for one course at a time. I paid for my course monthly using OUSBA and I never carried a debt forward. I completed my degree debt free. I did get a £1,000 concession from the Welsh Government and my employer gave me 2 x £100 - it was only £200 but it helped. Don't let cost be a barrier if you want to do it. And if cost is a major barrier you may well find you qualify for support. Also ask for OU gift vouchers for Christmas and birthday presents. I got a few of those and thought there's another £100 or £200 I don't have to find. It all helps and people are often stumped for present ideas.

Having a husband who was also studying with the OU was incredibly helpful. I wasn't used to studying and I'm the kind of person who tends to do something till I get fed up of it. So many times when I nearly gave up because it was tough he'd sit down with me and ask what I was struggling with. I even did a couple of courses when there was a gap in my studies as I didn't want to stop in case I gave up altogether. I needed to keep the habit going. It was also a chance to do a short course in Maths in case a future employer wanted it.

As well as finding it difficult some of the time there were other obstacles I had to face on my journey. I lost a very good friend to cancer just a few months before I took my final exam. She lived a long way away and as well as spending time with her whenever I could I was also trying to support her son, my godson, and her husband. I had to be incredibly disciplined to carry on with my studies. In a way they helped give me a focus away from the pain of my loss. I thought at one point I'd never get through it all with so much going on but I did. It was such a relief after I'd done my final exam and discovered I'd done well. It was an incredible whirlwind; looking back I don't know how I did it.

I'm so glad I did stick with it though. I'm the first person in our family to get our degree so it gave my parents, who divorced many years ago, their first degree ceremony to go to. They attended together which was lovely for all of us. So that was another wonderful spinoff from the OU. We all had an amazing weekend of celebration.

I didn't do the course for work yet people keep saying they've seen a real change in me. I'm more confident and happy to give an opinion because it's a considered opinion now. I feel far more rounded and capable of taking new things on. The way I write reports and present information to my Manager has really developed as a direct result of the assignments and feedback from the tutors on using formats, diagrams and tables. They get my message across, look really professional, and the improvements have been noticed both by my colleagues within my company as well as by our customers.

The way you study with the OU helps equip you with new skills. Part of my course was collaborative and you had to work with other people online. It could be really difficult getting everyone online at same time. You had to be online every day for two weeks to get it to work as some people were on shifts and others working at odd hours. Completing this project and getting it in on time and of a decent quality was a good challenge to face and a great sense of achievement afterwards.

Social media is useful too when you feel a bit stuck. I liked the Facebook groups especially as some had tutors on them and they were very helpful. They let us have our conversations but if we headed off on a different tack they would step in and steer us back to the right place.

All my tutors were incredibly encouraging. I went to the tutorials though it never ceased to amaze me how many people didn't go. But it's not practical for everyone. I was lucky the tutorials were held close to where I live. I made new friends as a result of attending tutorials as we always went for coffee afterwards and in the French group we tried to talk in French only. I'm still really good friends with them and one woman in particular is now a friend for life.

In 2016 I needed to move and so a job change was required.  Applications this time included my OU degree and so I was easily able to evidence skills such as commitment, planning and digital competence, along with the business and French knowledge.  My new employer has since told me that the OU degree was looked on very favourably by the interview panel, as it meant my skills were up to date and relevant for today's world, and demonstrated tenacity and commitment.

I'm happy to be an ambassador for the OU. I'll give talks about my experiences and how it works to anyone who wants to hear it. I highly recommend the OU.