Karis Williamson: How education opened up a whole new world

Study with the Open University has been life-changing. Picture: PA
Study with the Open University has been life-changing. Picture: PA
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The Open University has given Karis Williamson a fresh perspective on life

I have congenital muscular dystrophy and have just celebrated my 18th birthday. I left school in the last year of primary and began studying with The Open University in Scotland when I was 16.

My study has been life-changing.

I decided to do a degree as I had missed a few years of formal education and I was doing arts subjects for pleasure; I loved poetry and creative writing and wanted to rediscover education, get a degree – and I felt that I was capable of it.

Due to my illness I can never take tomorrow for granted and I want to squash in as much as possible while I can!

Besides studying, I am a member of Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Trailblazer network, which campaigns on key issues for young disabled people.

I first got involved with Trailblazers around 2010, motivated by educational inequality and other issues surrounding disability. The very fact that they listened to what I had to say marked them out as different. The organisations who should have been listening to me, chose not to. I’m proud to be involved with them.

I’ve completed courses in “Making sense of the arts”, “The arts past and present” and most recently Introducing the social sciences. I am studying for a BA Open (Honours) Degree, a flexible qualification that allows you to pick your own subjects, and hope to start a Creative Writing course this autumn.

I already loved the arts and humanities and studying them introduced me to things I hadn’t explored, like philosophy and art history. I also decided to study social sciences as I wanted to try something different and was especially intrigued by the content of the course and how people’s differences impact upon the social world.

My study of the arts has been particularly enjoyable – it opened up new worlds for me and gave me confidence to tackle things I never imagined I would, like studying the ancient world, Buddhism and Seamus Heaney. I certainly never imagined I would be able to write about the Benin bronzes or “The Burial at Thebes”!

Once I’d made the decision to study it was very straightforward and the university couldn’t have done any more to support me. The Student Support Team are fantastic and helped me to access the equipment I need to study 
and my tutors have been very supportive.

My arts tutor really encouraged me to explore things academically and in my own way. I also felt that the team who supported my entry to the university were really behind me and that they wanted me to succeed.

On the practical side of things, I get Disabled Students’ Allowance. This has been invaluable for my studies, providing the equipment and assistive technology I need to access the course materials, such as an eye-gaze computer, special software, a printer and a bookstand.

The OU learning style is very flexible and I can fit in study when it suits me. My tutorials have been a mix of online, and in person at a local school. I like the variety of study methods, and I have been to study days in Inverness and Edinburgh, which I found incredibly useful and very motivating.

Seeing the tutors and fellow students face-to-face not only improved my learning experience, it also acted as a reminder of why I’m doing my studies and that I’m not alone.

Having lectures from the course team also helps to gauge exactly what’s required and so I felt more confident and it improved my understanding. I would definitely recommend university as it’s been life-changing for me, has given me some self-respect, and re-educated me about what education really is, who I really am and what I’m capable of.

The thought of graduating keeps me motivated along with the support of those around me. But even if I never get to graduate, I have gained so much from studying that I could never regret it.

My family are really supportive about my education and they tell me that they are very proud of me. They feel that The OU encourages me to develop my full potential but most importantly, they say they love seeing me really enjoying and being enthusiastic about my education.

They also feel that they are learning really interesting things from me!

I would tell someone thinking of going into higher education, and studies with The OU, to go for it –they won’t regret it.

• Karis Williamson is a student with The Open University in Scotland.