Case studies: Why distance learning worked for me
When Faith Anderson took a reception job in 2004 it was only supposed to be for a few months - the idea being that she would bank some cash before starting a marketing degree at Bristol. Seven years on, the 26-year-old is still with the same company, Direct Marketing Strategy (DMS), after they offered to pay for a long-distance degree course providing she stayed on.
The scenario is an increasingly familiar one as companies attempt to hang on to bright young staff who, in turn, are balking at the huge debt that now comes, cap-in-hand, with university study.
"It meant I had the best of both worlds: I could stay in my job and earn money, while completing my degree at the same time" , said Faith.
"It's a real catch-22 at the moment: if you decide to go to university and don't work, you leave with qualifications but no work experience and lots of debt. If you opt out of university and concentrate on work, you get plenty of work experience but no qualifications.
"My long distance learning course meant that I was able to gain both the work experience and the qualifications. And have money to spend on shoes."
Having completed a three year business management degree course through RDI and accredited by the University of Wales, Faith now works as a HR assistant at the Cheltenham-based firm responsible for coming up with campaign ideas and marketing strategies for charities including Cafod, Oxfam and the Woodland Trust.
The degree course, in which Faith took a First Class Honours, was all online and allowed Faith to choose when and where she studied for it.
"It's quite quiet in the afternoons at work, so I did a lot of my coursework then. The rest I did at the weekends" , she said.
Her salary has since jumped 25 per cent, to £17,000 and her prospects with the company that has invested £5,000 in her development look good. She has also branched out on her own and runs her own events company in her spare time - something she believes would never have happened had it not been for her degree.
She said: "I've set up my own events business that runs events at Hyde Park. I'm in charge of about 400 staff and would never have had the confidence or know-how to do it if it wasn't for my extra study."
Andy Cain , 29, from Blackpool, had already completed a college catering course when he decided he wanted a career change.
With a passion for computers and websites, he found work with Fyld council, near Blackpool, and started off at the lowest grade, maintaining the council website.
During an appraisal he was told the council was prepared to pay for his BSC in business computing if he stayed with them and has since seen his grade and salary increase by 40 per cent.
"There was a definite I.T and website skills shortage at the council and it had to pay external contractors to do the work, which was costing them more than it would have done to pay their own staff.
"The online distance learning course, through RDI, involved me studying evenings and weekends and working at the council in the day, making sure the council's services were all online.
"It was hard graft but if it wasn't for the qualifications I would never have been able to become a transformation manager, which is what I am now."
As with Faith's course, Andy's degree involved online study set-up, designed to emulate the classroom, with an online tutor and forum that allows for live interaction.
"I had two exams a year that required me to turn up at a test centre, the rest of the time I could study from home" , he said.
Emma Cannaby , 23, went to the University of Leicester and studied psychology before working as an I.T. consultant for a year.
She then started working for the NHS' communications and engagement department and was tasked with engaging with patients to understand their needs and help to reduce health inequalities.
Her interests lay in project management and her NHS bosses agreed to part-finance her M.A project management degree through RDI and accredited by the University of Wales.
Now, at 23, she is one of the youngest in her department yet, thanks to her extra training, has been handed her own projects to manage.
"I'm managing the engagement of Children’s and Adolescents Mental Health Service and have had some great feedback from the children and young people, so I'm very pleased with how it's working out” , she said.
The course, which she is due to complete next October, is ideal for both her and her employers as it can be paused and restarted whenever necessary.
She said: "I paused it for a total of two months when I was ill and when I was getting married. It also means that if the NHS faces cuts, it can put the degree course on hold until there is more money available.
"Everything is done online and if I want to do three lectures in a day, I can. I set my own timetable, that's one of the good things about long distance learning."