Bite-Size higher learning - FBU

Last autumn funds became available via the 'Festival of Learning' for trade unions to help raise the profile of workplace learning. Especially in areas where little activity had taken place in regard to engaging with employers and involving Union Learning Reps (URLs). An emphasis was placed on the learning to encompass subjects like the arts, environment, sport, culture and encourage staff to engage in higher education.

The FBU's London region Lifelong Learning Co-ordinator, Tim Davis, felt this was an excellent opportunity to offer personnel the chance to enrol in one of the Open University's 'Openings' courses as they satisfied the conditions of the funding plus the OU have a very close relationship with unionlearn and the affiliated unions.

Two presentations were delivered by the Open University's Regional Manager, Ernest Dyer, at the London Fire Brigade Training Centre in Southwark, South London. More than 100 members of staff attended these events which provided them with an opportunity to find out how these courses are delivered, the different subjects' available plus general information about the OU. At each presentation each attendee was also provided with an Openings course prospectus.

Ernest Dyer had the following to say about his relationship with the London Fire Service and the Fire Brigades Union:

"In my work as a Regional Manager for the Open University's Centre for Widening Participation, I am able to enter into education partnerships with a range of different groups. I personally can't think of any more rewarding organisation to work with than the FBU. In being prepared to help facilitate access to higher education for its members the FBU are recognising that formal education can be the key to advancement with the Service (as well as offering opportunities beyond the Service) and also that education can, in itself, help to enrich a person's life.

I have very much enjoyed going along to the London Fire Service training centre in Southwark, South London – not just to discuss our courses with potential students but to see for myself, all the other activities going on in an around the court-yard as new intakes of London Fire fighters undertake their training. I would say that Tim Davis, the FBU official that I have been working with, has been brilliant.

Tim's self-effacing, but really well-organised approach, has proven to be very effective in relation to recruiting Fire Service personnel to education courses.

The central programme of courses that I help to manage, is composed of a set of courses known as 'Openings' – the name rather gives away the purpose of these courses. 'Openings' courses are intended to offer an 'open door' into higher education. Given this, the courses are designed with, yes interesting subject matter, but also with a focus on fostering the academic skills required for successful engagement with higher education. The programme has been running now for 10 years and so far 100,000 students have shown its value. There are 11 Openings courses, ranging across natural sciences, social sciences, health, sport, management, and the arts... in fact the programme offers courses that cover the range subjects delivered by the Open University's academic faculties.

The courses are short (up to 22 weeks) and if successfully completed, credits are awarded that can contribute to a degree – on average about 93% of those who complete an Openings course pass.

We have approximately 60 students who work in the Fire Service studying on the March presentation of a number of different Openings courses – all of these students were funded via the FBU. And I do hope that this will be 60 students taking the first steps on an educational journey that will be completed when, in a few years time, they will each gain a degree and that there will be many more Fire fighters following in their footsteps."

Some of the students have already provided feedback; Jason Baptiste, a fire-fighter based at Romford Fire Station states:

"I noticed on the information board at my Station, a leaflet with all the courses available, and decided to do 'Understanding Society' to gain a better understanding of the world and the people on it. I also found all of the topics in the introductory course very appealing to me.

I manage my time relatively well, working the 2-2-4 shift system; this allows me to study on my days off when my children are at school and again on the night shift. My tutor provides me with feedback and structure on my essays and clears up any questions I may have on any subjects"