Student news

Date published: 18 March 2013

18 March 2013

Open Universities degrees allow students to cherry-pick their subjects, writes Sue Green.

Tess Ogle is a multitasking maestro. A Sydney business analyst, Ogle, 25, who commutes from Tuggerah, on the NSW central coast, has a three-year-old son, Cameron, and is midway through a business degree.

It might sound overwhelming, but for Ogle, the study is paying dividends. And the stress is eased by studying part-time, online. Her bachelor of business degree, with a marketing major, is a Swinburne University qualification. But because she studies with Open Universities Australia (OUA), she can "cherry-pick" electives from other universities.

"Through Open Universities I pick all my units for the year; I pick four each year. They set up all the paperwork. I do core units and pick electives, any I want, for example criminology," says Ogle, who is studying electives from Griffith and Monash universities.

Ogle is self-motivated and has no problem studying alone, with access to OUA's support systems, including chatrooms, email contacts for questions and help with preparations for exams.

She believes it shows commitment to her finance company employer. And she is benefiting: "Doing the degree is helping me already: it puts me in a better position when it comes to promotion. I am 25 and I have been promoted above people who are older than me.

"I think what most university students make the mistake of is doing the full-time study and not having the experience to back it.

I started at the bottom and now I am getting the degree.

"I have worked in a position that is quite high-pressure at some points," the former currency trader says. "I find dealing with the pressure of university is no different." Paul Wappett, chief executive of OUA, a partner with Open Colleges Australia in the online MyCareer Education Centre, says Ogle's aims are not uncommon: desire for career progression is one of four key reasons for studying with OUA.

Others are desire for a career change, study for recreation for example, lawyers and accountants cherry-picking subjects for interesi and those he calls "digital natives [who] choose to study online because the rest of their lives are online. We believe that is going to grow quite significantly." Ogle says being able to study at night when her son is sleeping is crucial to her success. "This way I have the flexibility to study when I need to," she says. "For example, sometimes I have to work late, so I would not be finished by the time I would have to leave the office to go to a lecture." She praises OUA and says her courses qualify for government fees assistance and home study saves the cost of travelling to university.

"It is that flexibility that makes getting a degree possible," she says.

"I could not go to university and have a mortgage and a house and a child and go to work." Wappett says flexibility is crucial for OUA's 60,000 students, most of them part-timers and fitting study around work. The other big plus is customising their learning, choosing what is important to them.

Greg Angwin, who holds a senior sales and marketing position with a Western Australia-based national pipe manufacturei agrees. He began his bachelor of behavioural science while teaching in Moscow in 2008.

"It is fantastically flexible like that," he says. "I was in a foreign country and studying in an Australian university on the other side of the world." Angwin, 47, says his course, with a psychology major from Swinburne University and a human resources management minor from Monash University, helped him in Moscow and Perth.

In Moscow, where his students included high-powered business people from banks and companies such as Microsoft, the psychology units helped his teaching and the sociology helped his information and communications skills, he says.

In Perth, he received a salary increase within a year and a promotion two years later.

"I believe that is due to my education... I developed very good analytical abilities to look at the market," he says.

Angwin, originally from Bendigo, had to start work young, with no chance for university study.

He has young children, so studies late at night, and says being selfdirected gives him the motivation to learn more. And his employers appreciate his effort and time management skills.

"I think they like the fact that it is contemporary learning, not something I did 20 years ago.

"I am au fait with contemporary views and practices. That's important because a lot of it is jargon or industry skills and if you are up on that, it's very useful?"