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New year, new possibilities

New year, new possibilities


19 Dec, 2018

A new year often brings the chance to think about our potential. With that in mind, find out how the Access to Higher Education Diploma opens up study opportunities for those with a Services background …

In the past few months the UK media has published stories about the support being put in place for Services personnel and Veterans. We have been told how the Veteransí Gateway offers a first point of contact for Veterans seeking support, and it goes without saying that being able to find out what you need easily and quickly is really important. In his book Joys of War, John-Paul Jordan, ex-Special Forces, channelled his own experiences with PTSD to support others in similar situations.* He says: ëYou have the potential inside you.í

A new year is often a chance to think about our potential. For many people the start of a new year is an exciting time as they think about what the coming year will bring (and work through their new yearís resolutions). For others itís a less exciting time. Whatever the new year means to you, itís a chance to think about ways to make life easier and maybe set new goals. 

An Access to Higher Education Diploma could be your first step towards a new career. Access to HE Diplomas are qualifications for adults, designed to prepare them for study at university. There are more than 1,200 courses – most available to study at local colleges, although the number of courses available to study online is increasing. Access to HE students are studying courses that prepare them for graduate professions in areas like engineering, health, education and social work. And, as a member of the Armed Services, if you have a British Forces Post Office address you may study a Diploma when overseas.

Students on the courses are all looking to change their lives. They have had different life experiences, and many didnít think they would be able to go to university. Yet each year around 23,000 adults go on to study a degree after finishing an Access to HE Diploma.

'I wanted to get back to work but I just couldn't face going back to the same type of office work Iíd done previously. I felt a strong desire to push myself to something new, to achieve something. The Access to HE course introduced me to the concept of organised study.' Gabrielle Holmes, midwife

Around 13% of all Access to HE students identify themselves as having a disability. This includes mental health issues and learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Access to HE Diplomas are taught by people who understand what itís like to be an adult going back into the classroom after a long time away. They are able to support students to manage the challenges a changed daily routine can bring, as well as helping with course queries. The students also develop strong support networks, helping one another deal with the pressures of balancing study and life. 

In the Services, your 'Service family' is always there, it understands you. It's similar for Access to HE students. Theyíre all there because they want to change something or challenge themselves, and they want everyone in the group to succeed. Joining an Access to HE Diploma course may be a way to build additional support networks outside the patch – just one element of transition. 

Access to HE students have a common bond: the desire to achieve. They may not be leaving the military, but they are leaving one life behind them as they work to change their lives. Some have left jobs, and many had bad experiences at school.

Dr Mark Field, a former Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy, was one of these people. Mark did his Access to HE course part-time, two evenings a week, over two years. During this time he continued to work full-time as a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy. 

'Access to HE gave me renewed confidence in my ability to learn. There are probably a lot of people who, like me, didn't have a wholly positive experience of school, and as a result spent years assuming that academic study wasn't for them. For me, undertaking an Access to HE course changed that view. With the help of supportive, good-humoured and patient tutors, it provided me with the tools – and, above all, the self-belief – to undertake a higher education course.' Dr Mark Field

Mark was a little nervous about starting the course as he hadn't particularly enjoyed school and had few formal qualifications. To his surprise, he found he really enjoyed studying and sharing ideas with other students. He recalls moving to the local pub to continue discussions over a pint when a study group was thrown out of college by the caretaker securing the college. 

Before starting his degree, his plan had been to train as a teacher. However, he enjoyed the course so much that he decided to continue studying and returned to university to complete a masterís degree in public administration. While studying for this he was awarded a studentship to cover his tuition fees and living expenses, allowing him to carry out three years of doctoral research. He received his PhD in European Politics in 2015, and around the same time was appointed as Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at the university.

Says Mark: 'I never imagined that I would end up as part of the university's academic community, but study changes us. That I did is entirely thanks to the friendly and supportive atmosphere that the Access to HE course provided.' 

Throughout your Service career you have supported and protected others, your country, your Services family and your blood family. That need to protect and serve stays with you, making some decisions about your future very difficult.

'Most people in the military, myself included, want a quick solution. They want to earn the most amount of money possible straight away and may not know that there are other options that may take a little longer but may be more fulfilling in the long run,' says Tommy Sharpe, former Royal Marine and currently studying for a social work degree after medical discharge.

Dr Peter Sloane (pictured above), lecturer in English at the University of Lincoln, says: 'I didn't do very well at school and I didn't really enjoy school. I didn't leave with any qualifications. I think I got a GCSE in Art. Universities were absolutely exclusive. There was a particular kind of person that went to university, and then they had a career and then ran the country. There are other people who worked in factories, drove taxis, and delivered milk and newspapers ... I donít know if the doors were intentionally closed before, but they were certainly very difficult for someone like me to open. Access courses essentially just offer you a new life, donít they? It offers you a chance to be the kind of person you want yourself to be. To meet your aspirations. That's what it's done for me.'

Funding options

Service leavers have several options to fund their studies:

  • Enhanced Learning Credits (if you're registered) 
  • the Publicly Funded FE/HE scheme (the higher education course must be done immediately after the Access to HE courses)
  • Advanced Learner Loan.

The publicly funded FE and HE scheme pays for your Access to HE Diploma and degree, as long as the Diploma is in a subject leading to degree and is done immediately before your degree studies. Your education officer will have more information. You may prefer to use learning credits (ELC or SLC) to pay for your course and many Access to HE providers are on the ELCAS website. 

Advanced Learner Loan repayments don't start until you start to earn more than £25,000 per year. And if you successfully complete a QAA-recognised Access to HE course, the balance of the loan will be cancelled when you complete your higher education course. For more information about advanced learner loans visit the website. 

You may also receive a childcare allowance grant that doesn't need to be repaid. You can see if you get help for childcare using the calculator here: Many universities also offer funds to help with the cost of going to university. It is important to look in to your funding options carefully to make sure you make the best choice for you and your family. Access to HE providers, your education officer or transition staff should be able to help you choose the best route.

Higher education is not for everyone, but it could be your route through transition. 

Let’s get started …

Once you've got your funding in place, youíre ready for that new start and need to enrol. (You might be interviewed to make sure the course is right for you.) Find out about courses on our website at and check the ELCAS website too, at Also, think carefully about how you like to work. 

Are you happiest working as part of a team? If so, perhaps learning that involves some classroom activity is best for you. Online learning might be best if you can't get to college regularly, or you prefer to work as an individual, although nowadays most courses have some parts that are completed online. 

Find out more 

You may find the following websites helpful.

Access to HE website: 

Real-life stories: 

Diploma database: 

Advanced Learner Loans: 

Enhanced Learning Credits: