UNISON National Black Members Committee member Elizabeth Cameron is a former Union Learning Rep (ULR) and when she was elected onto the union’s National Executive Council wanted to understand more about the trade union movement. She spotted an advert in Labour Review magazine for Ruskin College, and found out that she could apply for a UNISON bursary to help her studies.
The union bursary seemed like a perfect opportunity for Elizabeth to focus on her own studies, which she’d had to abandon when she became a mum at 17.
I thought I had lost every chance to enter higher education, as family priorities and work priorities all took a precedent. Building that self-belief that my life experience counted for something, that I really could achieve success with the ongoing support and encouragement, was absolutely crucial.”
So Elizabeth applied to do a Masters in International Labour & Trade Union Studies course at Ruskin College. She did the 2000 word essay on the current state of public services which she describes as “a bit of a political rant”.
She missed the start of the Masters but was accepted to the BA (Hons) course in December 2012, beginning in January 2013. However, within a year of starting the course she lost her job at Salford City Council. Determined that she continue, her mum helped with her out with costs and she was able to draw down a student loan for the fees.
Because she was doing the course part-time over six years, each year the fees increased, starting at £1975 and ending at £6975 in her final year. UNISON helped, providing a total of nearly £2000 in bursary support over the length of the course.
Among other precarious employment, Elizabeth worked in community care on zero hours contracts to help finance her studies and she says the UNISON bursary was essential to help her continue studying as it helped with her fees and books. She was having to travel down from Manchester to Oxford for the residential weekends, therefore having to cover the costs of accommodation, meals and travel as well as fees.
Elizabeth has now completed her studies and graduated. She said:
I wanted to take time out to say a deep and heartfelt thank you for all your support while I have been doing the BA in International Labour and trade union studies at Ruskin.
I applied for the Bursary in 2012 and was successful and you can’t imagine how much of a difference it made to me while I was studying especially at times when I changed jobs and money was really tight.
Needing to stay over at their accommodation in leafy Headington, Oxford, was expensive and Elizabeth still had to eat and also get there, which was a £100 train ticket on most occasions. Buying books was a massive expense too and she used anything left over from bursary was used to assist this aspect.
I learnt so many subjects, from English law to climate change to economics and the history of the labour movement, the learning was vast and the range of material required to understand it was massive. I have found my voice and feel much more confident to engage in debates on current topics affecting workers in public services.
I thank UNISON from the bottom of my heart for all the support you gave me.”