Reporter 411, 1 December 1997

Meet Tom Egan – technician by day, arts student by night

When Tom Egan left Grammar School he had one O Level to his name, went straight into a technical apprenticeship and gained a City and Guilds qualification. Today the 46-year-old University technician is in his first year as a part-time degree student.

"I had a good education but I was more of a hands-on type of person," he says, recalling his school days. After working as a technician in the food industry he joined the University staff six years ago.

Now, two evenings a week he joins a refuse collector, a retired school teacher, an office manager and other part-time students to study for a BA Combined Arts degree at the University.

"It's still early days but I'm already feeling the benefits of the course," says Tom, (right), who by day is a workshop technician in chemical engineering. "I'm improving my communications skills and I have become better organised. The other Sunday I got up at 7.30 to learn something I needed for that week's session. I've also been to other parts of the University, such as the Brotherton Library, which is excellent."

He even booked a day's holiday so that he could attend a couple of lectures along with the full-time students.

The idea of studying for a degree emerged during Tom's staff appraisal. He went on a technology access course (at Leeds Metropolitan University) and has now embarked on the six-year BA course, funded by the University.

Although he is studying for an arts degree, the subject is not entirely divorced from Tom's more technical and scientific background.

"I'm interested in logic which comes in the first level core philosophy module," he says. "As a technician I learned algebraic logic and microprocessor logic. Next year I'm hoping to do the history and philosophy of science."

But he deliberately chose a subject that would not have an obvious impact on his career progression. "Otherwise I might have got a bit impatient during the six years," he explains. "That's why I went for something I was interested in. I'm really enjoying it."

¤ Tom is not the only member of staff taking advantage of the education opportunities at Leeds – eleven staff have just celebrated their graduation from the University's pioneering Return to Learn programme. They started the course last year and were released from normal duties for around 12 hours a month to attend classes at Adult Continuing Education. The ten-month course was negotiated with UNISON and is designed for those who have been out of education for some time and have few or no formal qualifications.

A gardener, a cleaner, a painter and an electrician were among the staff on the course which was funded by the Staff and Departmental Development Unit. Working at their own pace they learnt skills to help them benefit from further education and training. All have started another course or intend to continue their education – some achieved the equivalent of A-levels and are starting Access courses.

The evaluation of the course – the first of its kind in a British university – has been so positive from staff and managers alike a second course will be offered from January 1998. An information session will be held on Tuesday 16 December at 10.30am in room G16 in the School of Continuing Education, Springfield Mount. Alternatively, staff can contact Debbie Greenwood in SDDU on ext 4148 or Eileen Barrett, tutor from the Workers Educational Association on 294 4523 (weekends).

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