Going The Distance

You don’t need to go to college or university to get the qualifications you need; these days, the courses can come to you.


So, you have a civilian career in mind but you need to get some new skills or qualifications under your belt before you can get started. Yet you have neither the time nor opportunity to go to college or university to study full time because, well, you still have certain Military commitments and might not even be based in the UK. Problem? Not these days.


Further and higher education institutions increasingly enable you to complete their courses “remotely”, whether we’re talking certificates requiring just a few hours’ or days’ study, or degrees and post-graduate qualifications that take years to complete. Courses will still include the basic study elements of lectures, tutorials and study aids, but they’ll be provided primarily in the shape of books, CD-ROMs, DVDs and online. Rather than meeting in the same room, you’ll communicate with tutors, lecturers and fellow students by email, phone or through online forums — assuming you’re somewhere in the world with reasonable reception, of course.


Quite apart from the geographical flexibility distance learning offers, the great benefit of distance learning is that these courses enable you to study at your own pace, fitting the learning in with the rest of your life. You’re very much in control. Of course, it’s likely to take longer than studying full-time; while it’s possible to complete most distance learning courses within the same time-frame as full-time students on campus, it’s generally recommended that you don’t unduly rush things when there’s the day-job (and possibly other personal commitments) to consider.



While there’s likely to be some kind of overall calendar that you have to conform to (at least when it comes to assignment deadlines and examination dates), you’ll be free to plan your studies in a way that best fits in with the rest of your life. Nor will you likely be the first student for whom examiners will make allowances if you have to sit your final exams while on tour on the other side of the world.


Admittedly, all of this comes with its own challenges regarding maintaining the discipline of your studies when there’ll be plenty of distractions. Arguably, though, who is better prepared to take on that challenge than a member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces? Many of the courses are modular, meaning you can complete individual sections and the credits gained from them can build up to gain a degree or other Higher Education qualification. As a result, distance learning has enabled thousands of Service personnel and Service-leavers to gain qualifications from HNCs to MBAs that would otherwise have been out of reach. Fancy joining them?



Information and advice on the many hundreds of distance learning courses offered by colleges and universities around the UK — as well as what funding you can access from the MoD — can be found through your unit’s education officer, your nearest education centre or advisors working for the CTP. On Civvy Street itself, learndirect runs its own courses and learning centres across the UK, while the Open & Distance Learning Quality Council website includes lists of accredited providers. Also, ask around; at least some of your peers will have studied, or will be currently studying, courtesy of distance learning; get it from the “horse’s mouth”, so to speak.


Possibly the two best known providers of distance learning are the Open University (OU) and the National Extension College (NEC); indeed, the former, originally dubbed the “University of the Airwaves” for its reliance on radio and television broadcasts, does nothing else. Both the OU and NEC have well established links with each of the Armed Forces; thanks to an agreement with the MoD, for example, you can study any OU course (which are, of course, approved under the MoD’s Enhanced Learning Credit scheme) at UK prices from any BFPO address in the world.


The NEC (best known as a provider of GCSEs, A-levels and other specialist qualifications) has its own Forces learning scheme; in addition, if you serve in the Royal Navy or Royal Marines, you can enrol on NEC courses through the Marine Society, and benefit from a significant discount. So, do you fancy joining thousands of your fellow Service men and women who are currently studying for qualifications to enhance their career prospects, both inside and outside of the Armed Forces?



Completing any course requires commitment and determination. As Sergeant Major Andy Winnett explains on the OU website: “Fitting in my studies has been difficult at times. When I first started I was in Cyprus. For my Humanities course I was in Iraq. But having the support of my tutor online and the First Class forum has been really useful. There were quite a few times I had to get extensions for assignments. I was even able to use the online TMA (Tutor Marked Assignment) system when I was in Iraq.”


Yes, sooner or later you’ll need to put in the hard work even though you might be physically exhausted, sitting in baking desert heat, or tempted to go on the lash with your mates. There’ll be times when you’ll get fed up being called a swat, or worse; but, then again, you might be like Andy and be regularly badgered to get on with his work by his wife!


Even just a couple of hours’ study a day — perhaps before or after your duties — can soon build up and make a real difference. But, your Military-honed discipline will help you see the results of that investment, when you gain the qualifications and skills that will help in your future civilian career. So, ready to go the distance?




0800 101 901




Marine Society

020 7654 7050




National Extension College

0800 389 2839




Open and Distance Learning Quality Council

020 8658 8337



Open University

0845 300 6090



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