Back to school: Learning Your 
Way Out of the Recession

Back to school: Learning Your Way Out of the Recession

With the economy shuddering and unemployment rising, 2009 looks set to be the year that many of us change our lifestyles and make some big decisions. One thing that many people are likely to make an investment in is themselves - by going 'back to school' and getting a new qualification.

The figures already highlight this trend. Last year, UCAS reports that more people were accepted onto full-time undergraduate courses in the UK than ever before. Over 450,000 new students enrolled in higher education, an increase on the previous year of over 10%. And if you break the numbers down by age-group, what's particularly interesting is that the biggest increase is in the over-25 age group, with a rise of over 20%. This increase in the numbers of mature students demonstrates that more people are choosing to get qualifications later in life. And the numbers of people combining their studies with work and family life is rising faster still. There's been a 108% increase over the last ten years in the numbers of people studying part-time for new qualifications according to figures compiled by Universities UK.

Why go back to school?

For some, it might be to take time out from work - when the economy isn't in particularly good shape anyway - to indulge a passion they've always wanted to explore. The possibility of redundancy can lead to people exploring different pathways - particularly younger people who don't have too many financial commitments or aren't supporting a family.

No need to make up excuses for trying something new. Here's your chance to have a go at writing that novel by doing a creative writing course; seeing if you really can take great pictures by doing a photography course; or maybe learning a new language.

Many of these "softer" skills are also seen as increasingly valuable by employers in the modern workplace - adaptability and creativity are seen as valuable attributes. Others might choose to study part time for a professional qualification. This can be just the insulation needed to keep you in work during a downturn. Adding a couple of extra notches to the CV makes you more attractive to your existing employer and a better prospect for new ones should you need to find new employment. It can also be intellectually rewarding too.

Finding the right course
So how to go about finding the right course for you? There are lots of useful resources online. A good place to start is Hotcourses, which has details of everything from part-time and evening courses to postgraduate degrees and MBAs. For higher education courses - those that usually require you to have A-levels or equivalent to apply - try the UCAS Course Search. If you have a specific career change in mind, but aren't sure what qualifications will get you there fastest, see the Careers Advice pages at Directgov. And don't forget to talk to your existing employer too. If you're considering professional qualifications, your HR department may well know exactly which course you need and where to study it.

Funding your studies
Of course you need to think carefully about how you'll pay for the course you plan to take and how you'll also pay your living expenses. Most students fund their studies with a combination of grants, part or full-time work and loans. Student Loans are provided at an interest rate in line with inflation. There are a lot of options for prospective students to consider. Some of the funding rules are liable to change from year to year - check Directgov's pages on student finance for the latest details.

If you're considering doing a professional qualification like an MBA or a Chartered Institute Diploma, larger employers will sometimes fund the cost of the training. There are often conditions attached - perhaps requiring that you pay back the cost of the training if you leave for another employer within a certain number of years. There are also Career Development Loans available with similar terms to student loans. It's obviously very important to think carefully before taking out a loan, regardless of what it's for. Consider exactly how much you'll need to borrow and then work out how much you will need to be earning to pay it back.

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