After a career in the armed forces, deciding what to do next can be a challenge for some ex-servicemen and women.
As they return to civilian life, many may not consider higher education an option, but an initiative at the University of South Wales aims to change that.
The institution has introduced a scheme that awards veterans academic credit for the training they undertook and the knowledge they gained while serving, equivalent to up to the first two years of an undergraduate degree, or two-thirds of a postgraduate qualification.
This can help people to reskill and join the workforce more quickly, and at a substantially reduced cost, while also giving them the opportunity to gain entry to a course for which they lack the formal entry requirements.
Since the scheme was launched in November last year, 260 applications have been received from across the country, and 50 people will be starting at USW next month.
The applicants range from those who served in the rank of private or equivalent up to senior officers. It is hoped that many more of the 260 applicants will be placed on courses once their assessment processes are complete.
Credit can be given for qualifications gained in the armed forces, with many applicants opting for courses in fields such as engineering, construction and sport. But recognition can also be given to broader experience, such as leadership skills, with business and management courses proving popular.
The architect of the recognition of prior learning scheme for the armed forces is Ross Hall, principal lecturer in sport psychology and USW’s armed forces champion, and the idea came from his own personal experience.
After a 30-year career in the Royal Engineers, during which he carried out tours in the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland and Bosnia, Mr Hall studied sport and exercise science at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, before becoming a lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton.
As a specialist in sport psychology, Mr Hall supported the British wheelchair rugby team at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, and the British men’s handball team at the 2012 London Olympics.
“Education can be the cornerstone for a new career or [can serve] to enhance an existing career,” said Mr Hall. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do but thankfully someone took a chance on me, and that was a turning point in my life.”
Support for ex-service personnel has improved since Mr Hall left the military in the mid-1990s, when, he says, it was “pretty much a wave and off you go”.
Since 2008, former personnel who have completed at least four years’ service can have their tuition fees for an undergraduate degree paid by the government.
But there remain a significant number of veterans who completed their service before 2008 and are looking to reskill, and the demands on the military nowadays mean that someone could see active duty and still have been enlisted for fewer than four years.
This is particularly relevant to South Wales, where the Welsh regiments have traditionally been big recruiters, and USW offers bursaries to former service personnel, as well as free specialist assessments and advice.
It is not just a matter of helping ex-service personnel, Mr Hall said. Having these individuals and their experiences in the lecture theatre and seminar room can enrich the learning of everyone on the course, he argued.
Ultimately, Mr Hall hopes that universities across the country will expand their efforts to give recognition to veterans’ experiences, and that the forces will help too, by aligning their qualifications more closely with the activities of higher education institutions.
But he believes that the work at USW is an important step towards making university study an option for more former service personnel.
“Ninety per cent of the guys I served with were capable of completing a degree, but it was not something they would ever think to do,” he said. “They do have the relevant experience, but it’s just applied in a slightly different context, so it’s about guiding these applicants.”
260 – the number of applications that the USW has received from veterans since November
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