From beat to bait

August 21, 1998

In the third of our series, Olga Wojtas looks at access to higher education in Scotland

David Henderson would work from 10.30pm until 7am as a traffic controller for Grampian Doctors on Call before turning up at Aberdeen University for a 9am lecture.

The past two years of his BSc degree dovetailed with shift work. During the first year, and a year's access course at Aberdeen College, his jobs ranged from general labouring to dishwashing. Asked whether he ever contemplated dropping out, he jokes: "I was too shattered to think about it."

Mr Henderson left school in the fifth year to become a police cadet. But by the time he was 46, and a Grampian police sergeant, he felt he needed a fresh challenge. A keen fisherman, he wanted to tackle the problem of fish stocks in local rivers. He had no school science qualifications, but successfully completed an Access to Science course run by Norswap under the Scottish Wider Access Programme, which guaranteed a university place.

"The guaranteed entry really is something. You always had that carrot, that it wasn't a case of having to shop around when you finished," he says. "I have nothing but praise for the people who put me through. The lecturers believe in you and convince you you can do it. And it was really important that I got a lot of support from my wife and children, because it was all quite daunting."

He believes that at university, mature students had an advantage over school-leavers in that they treated the course as a 9-5 job, working in the library or computer suite when they were not in lectures.

Mr Henderson graduated in countryside and environmental management, and as well as doing freelance fisheries work, he has returned to Aberdeen College as a lecturer, teaching biology and environmental studies to the inmates of Peterhead Prison.

"I'd been fishing for 40 years and wanted to give something back," he says. "A degree is a huge boost to your confidence, and it's good to pass on what I've learned."

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