From Salford to Uganda, and beyond: how a Social Policy degree has opened doors for mature student Claire
Mature student Claire Carey is in the second year of a BSc Social Policy at the University of Salford. She had intended to do a degree in Social Work, but when she was offered the place on the Social Policy course, Claire realised it was much more suited to her career plan.
“I’d never heard of Social Policy, but when I did some research I realised it would open so many more doors and would be the ideal route for me,” explains Claire. “I’m interested in local government and getting involved in policies that will benefit children and families; I want to make changes rather than just implement what’s already there.”
As a mother of five children aged two to 14, a former foster carer, and a mentor for a young person in local authority care, Claire’s passion lies in improving the lives of young people. She applied for the Social Work degree because she assumed that it was the only route into the career she wanted.
“I’m interested in working with children, young people and families, but not as a social worker,” explains Claire. “I just assumed that would be the route in, I didn’t know there was a degree I could do that was geared much more towards the policy making side of things.
“You study a much wider range of subjects, and I looked at what students had achieved in terms of employability and realised that they were working in areas like local government, housing, and the NHS executive, in positions that could influence policy, rather than deliver it.”
Another major benefit for Claire is the structure of the modules delivered within the course, and the flexibility of the areas that can be studied.
“There’s a very strong emphasis on research, which is ideal for me because that’s an area I want to pursue career-wise – evidence-based research that will influence policy. Students can also devise their own questions within some modules, which means we can tailor our assignments to our own specific areas of interest. So, for example, I’m also interested in maternity care and pregnancy, so within the healthcare module, my question relates to maternity care.
“This means that you’re researching and studying areas you have a keen interest in, but at the same time you have a very strong support network from all the lecturers. It’s ideal.”
Opportunities for external work are a major bonus for Claire. “Our programme leader is very pro-active with emailing us opportunities for voluntary and paid work, and the university has the Advantage website, which is a brilliant resource for jobs and voluntary positions. That’s how I got involved with the ParliaMentor scheme.”
ParliaMentors are groups of university students who create social action projects with support from local and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and with mentoring from parliamentarians. Participants receive leadership training and attend events to help them widen their professional and social networks.
“We’re setting up a social action project in Salford, with mentoring from Yasmin Qureshi, the MP for Bolton South East,” explains Claire. “The scheme we’re setting up is called SalfReach, which we started in September. It will offer one-to-one mentoring and workshops for people who want to return to work or education, or gain new skills. We also have links with local councils and skills and development agencies to provide opportunities for the people that we’re working with.”
The pilot scheme will run for eight months, with an exhibition in February at MediaCityUK to showcase the project to high-profile dignitaries and businesses.
“We’ll use the opportunity to get backing to take the project further and try and turn it into a social enterprise, rather than a one-off project,” says Claire. “We want to make it sustainable, and show that we have a credible service that’s doing important work in the community.”
With five children, a part-time job, a voluntary mentoring role and a social enterprise, time is tight. But, Claire says, the Social Policy course is easy to fit in around work and home life. “We have 12 hours a week in lectures and seminars, and the rest is independent study. It’s ideal for me because it’s easy to arrange child care for an hour or two during the day, and I can do my independent study when they’re in bed. And because of the freedom to tailor assignments to your own special interests and areas of expertise, it doesn’t feel like work. And I’m also very organised!”
So organised, in fact, Claire is managing to fit in a trip to Uganda in her final year, thanks to a £5,000 bursary from the University of Salford’s International Bursary Fund.
“Professor Louise Ackers, the chair of the Social Policy unit at the university, is also a trustee of the Liverpool-Mulago partnership, which works to improve maternal and neo-natal health in Uganda. I’m so happy to be awarded the bursary, which will cover the cost of the trip and the immunisations and insurance I need to be able to go. I can tailor the trip to help me get the most out of my dissertation or community placement in my final year, while at the same time getting involved with the policy side of things over in Uganda and helping to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality and improve health. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if I hadn’t done the Social Policy degree. As well as the course content being so close to what I want to do eventually as a career, the support of the lecturers has been amazing. They’re all so brilliant and knowledgeable, and really care about their students. I can’t praise them highly enough, they always have time to help. It’s so important to me as a student knowing that I have lecturers supporting me. It makes me believe I can succeed.”