Studying in a secure environment – Student Voice Week 2021

In this short blog, a literature and creative writing student in a secure environment shares what it’s like studying with the OU.

This blog was provided by The Open University in Scotland, as part of OU Student Voice Week 2021.

There are over forty people in secure facilities across Scotland – prisons and hospitals – currently studying Open University (OU) undergraduate modules. In this short blog, a literature and creative writing student in a secure environment shares what it’s like studying with the OU.

There I was, a forty-something year old man from Inverness who, in 2015, had reached a crossroad. I had at that point already served a number of years in prison and was desperate for a challenge. Enter stage left, The Open University. 

Actually, hold that thought, as Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP)Glenochil and Fife College deserve a mention. It was a tutor from Fife College who whilst working in HMP Glenochil in Central Scotland, gave me a gentle shove towards doing a degree with the OU. Now that’s explained I can tell you more about The Open University!

From the very start, any fears or trepidations I might have had about not being able to achieve a degree were swept away, through the step-by-step advice from The Open University as I began year one. All the questions I had were answered through the study guide, assessment guide and the assessment information sent to me by the OU. 

I need to share this with you, the Scottish Prison Service have a motto of sorts, ‘Unlocking potential, transforming lives’. 

I can say in all honesty and with hand on heart that this is exactly what they and The Open University have done for me. 

The backing from the Scottish Prison Service clearly showed they wanted to see me succeed. It was that kind of backing that inspired me throughout the six years I spent gaining a Bachelor of Arts (BA) Honours in English Literature and Creative Writing. Perhaps they saw me as being the next international best seller and not the next Inverness Big Issue seller that I saw myself being! 

I love a challenge and working towards a degree offered me the challenge I was looking for. I studied the greats, such as Shakespeare, Dickens, Byron and Wordsworth, to name but a few. Not every piece of prose or poetry I read was inspiring, but that’s fine because the written word is an art form and art in all its forms shouldn’t be objective. That is one of the key factors that I picked up from my Open University tutors, as they wanted to hear about my opinions. After all, how boring would life be if we all agreed about the same things?

In prison we, or I certainly didn’t have access to a laptop in my prison cell, or a direct link to the internet. To get access to my tutor if I was needing help, I went to the Education Department where either a phone call or an email would be sent to my tutor. 

This was no problem for me or my OU tutors, nor was it ever a problem getting help from the education staff from Fife College. No matter what prison I have been in, Fife College has always given me brilliant support. None more so than when COVID-19 halted things, they always made sure that my assignments were sent to my tutors. 

Achieving this degree has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. To all of you who are contemplating a degree through The Open University, go for it. It’s a brilliant journey and you won’t be doing it on your own. After all, if an old duffer like me can do it, then so can you. 

The majority of OU students in Scotland study for free with a part-time fee grant, which is for students in Scotland with a personal income of £25,000 or less.  No qualifications are required for most OU modules.

There is more information about OU study and how we support our students, including our students in secure environments, on our Study webpage

You can also read more student stories and blogs by OU students, staff and partners. 

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