Cherry-pick your way to a degree

Tess Ogle has been able to study what she wants to, when she wants to through Open Universities Australia.
Tess Ogle has been able to study what she wants to, when she wants to through Open Universities Australia.

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Tess Ogle is a multitasking maestro. A Sydney business analyst, Tess, 25, who commutes from Tuggerah, on the NSW central coast, has a pre-schooler son, Cameron, and is midway through a business degree.

It might sound overwhelming, but for Ogle, the study is paying dividends. And the stress is eased by studying part-time, online. Her bachelor of business degree, with a marketing major, is a Swinburne University qualification. But because she studies with Open Universities Australia (OUA), she can "cherry-pick" electives from other universities.

"Through Open Universities I pick all my units for the year; I pick four each year. They set up all the paperwork. I do core units and pick electives, any I want, for example criminology," says Tess, who is studying electives from Griffith and Monash universities.

Tess is self-motivated and has no problem studying alone, with access to OUA's support systems, including chat rooms, email contacts for questions and help with preparations for exams.

She believes it shows commitment to her finance company employer. And she also benefits. "Doing the degree is helping me already. It puts me in a better position when it comes to promotion. I am 25 and I have been promoted above people who are older than me," she said.

"I think what most university students make the mistake of is doing the full-time study and not having the experience to back it. I started at the bottom and now  I am getting the degree.

"I have worked in a position that is quite high-pressure at some points," the former currency trader says. "I find dealing with the pressure of university is no different."

OUA chief executive officer, Paul Wappett, says Tess' aims are not uncommon. Desire for career progression is one of four key reasons why people study with OUA.

Others are desire for a career change or study for recreation. Lawyers and accountants, for example, may cherry-pick subjects for interest rather than professional reasons. Then there's those Mr Wappett call "digital natives" - the ones who choose to study online because the rest of their lives are online.

"We believe that is going to grow quite significantly," he said.

Tess said being able to study at night when her son was sleeping was crucial to her success.

"This way I have the flexibility to study when I need to. For example, sometimes I have to work late, so I would not be finished by the time I would have to leave the office to go to a lecture."

She praised OUA and said her courses qualified for government fees assistance, while home study saved on the cost of travelling to university.

"It is that flexibility that makes getting a degree possible," she said.

"I could not go to university and have a mortgage and a house and a child and go to work." 

Mr Wappett said flexibility was crucial for OUA's 60,000 students, most of them part-timers and fitting study around work. The other big plus is customising their learning, choosing what is important to them.

* This article was written by a Fairfax Media journalist as part of a commercial arrangement with Open Universities Australia.