Thursday, 1 May 2014

NEC: Bill’s stepping stone from shop floor to doctorate

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Writing his autobiography from his home in Cyprus, retired academic Bill Haywood has been retracing his learning journey from ‘70s shop steward in the West Midlands to external student supervisor on the Open University’s technical change MSc. The book, entitled ‘On Life’s Little Twists and Turns’ and published by Random House imprint Partridge Books, pays tribute to the role of NEC and in particular his tutor Sam Rouse, in achieving far more in life than he expected when he left school.

During Bill’s school days, many men and women who in peace-time would have been teachers were away fighting the Second World War. Bill’s education was further hindered by having to spend two days a week attending hospital. It’s hardly surprising that, like many of his generation, Bill left school with no formal qualifications and went straight into an unskilled job with Phillips Cycles in Smethwick in the post-war years, when work was plentiful.

Sam guided Bill through the NEC social studies course the TUC signed him up for in 1972. Later on, Sam encouraged him to apply to Ruskin College, which provides educational opportunities for adults with few or no qualifications. Bill explains: ‘I was in my mid-thirties, working full-time for engineering company GKN. When I became a shop steward for the AUEW, I wanted to be as competent in that role as I could be. Returning to full-time education was out of the question, so I thought a correspondence course might be the answer.’

40 years on, Bill is quite sure that without Sam Rouse as his tutor at NEC he would not have had the courage to apply to Ruskin College. ‘Ruskin had given me a choice of six essay titles,’ he explains. He chose ‘Is civil disobedience ever permissible in a democratic society?’ Bill continues: ‘Sam didn’t say whether he thought it was or whether it wasn’t ever permissible. Instead, he helped me to understand that the response I gave was my choice and my choice alone, and sent me a list of six books to read to help me make up my mind. I wrote the essay in longhand, as you did in those days, and sent it off. A few weeks later I was interviewed at the College, and then offered a place on a thirty week a year, two-year course.’

At Ruskin College, Bill was awarded a diploma in Labour Studies in 1976. A BA in economics and an MSc in the history and social studies of science at Sussex University followed. In 1985, he completed his D Phil thesis on technical change and employment in the British printing industry, also at Sussex. His subsequent academic career, at the universities of Brighton and Sussex, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, and at Manchester Business School, have taken him all over the world including to South America, the United States and to most of the capital cities of Europe.

When Bill became an external student supervisor at the Open University his own experiences as a part-time learner with NEC helped him to understand the challenges such students face. This was especially the case for students holding down a job and bringing up a family at the same time as studying part-time for a degree.

With his first book due back from the printers any day now, Bill is already planning his second. This time, he’s going to try his hand at a novel, in line with his belief that if you stop learning from the things you see around you, ‘you may as well pop your clogs’.

Bill concludes: ‘The NEC and Sam started me off on a journey I could never have contemplated without their input. Finishing the NEC course felt like stepping into soft snow at the top of a mountain; at Ruskin College, the slide became faster and faster. As for the University of Sussex and my three degrees, to me it felt like being in an avalanche that was carrying me I knew not where. It was a journey I could not possibly have expected. I visited places, and met exciting and interesting people, who it would never have occurred to me as a teenager and a young man that I would ever see, or know. Not bad for a working class Black Country boy who left school envisioning a life of factory drudgery, and not expecting to get much beyond the West Midlands!’

If you’ve been inspired by Bill’s story and want to find out more about NEC, visit our website to learn about our work and browse through our wide range of flexible distance learning courses. You might also be pleased to know the partnership with the TUC that gave Bill the opportunity to learn continues to this day through unionlearn; trade unionists are entitled to a 10% discount off the cost of our courses.

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