In the third of our series, Olga Wojtas looks at access to higher education in Scotland
Elaine Crawford left school with five O-grades, aged 15, and ended up working in accounts in a Scottish hotel. "I just wanted to get out there and earn some money and be independent," she says. "But you can get in a rut. It provided an income, but it wasn't fulfilling."
Now in her forties, she says she "hit rock bottom" after a divorce and health problems. She saw education as the key to improving her life, and signed up for a one-year pre-entry course at Strathclyde University. The course, launched in 1985, is for students over 21 without the normal entrance requirements for a BA in arts and social sciences, guaranteeing a local university place for anyone achieving more than 60 per cent. About 150 begin the course each year, with around 90 taking the final exam. Ms Crawford was among those who qualified to begin a degree.
"In the first year, I knew that healthwise, I wasn't able to commit to a full-time course. But the university has a very good advisory department, and part-time is quite flexible. You can mix and match, taking 50 per cent of the classes, exactly the same tutorials and lectures as the other students."
Ms Crawford has now completed the first two years of the degree over four years, studying English and psychology. But money has been very tight. "I'm on benefits, and my parents paid my fees. I couldn't have done it without my parents and family and friends," she says.
She thinks it is "wonderful" that the Scottish Office is funding fee waivers to encourage part-time students who are unemployed or on low incomes. "Just to have your fees paid validates your presence. You feel you're being supported officially."
She believes women in particular feel guilty about paying a lump sum for fees, seeing the money as better spent on their families, rather than taking the longer-term view that it could increase their earnings.
"If you're on a limited income, you don't take a long-term view. But the more I do, the more ideas I have for possibilities. Studying has increased my confidence, and I hope will help me back into work."