Rona Francis’ life was transformed following her decision to pursue higher education through the Fastrack course, which in 2019 celebrates its 21st year.

Unmotivated by her employment and with a daughter who hard started her own University journey, she had reached a low ebb in her life five years ago, at the age of 50.

“I had left school at the age of 16, very disillusioned with education and with few qualifications. Looking back, as a girl, it was never expected that I would want to achieve anything more than to be a good wife and mother”, Rona recounts.

Research pointed her in the direction of Edge Hill University, the first stop on a journey that was to lead to professional and social fulfilment.

“Before I knew it, I was signed up, resignation handed in and it was 1 June. What had I done? I was filled with trepidation. The problems in my previous employment had eaten away at my self-confidence. I arrived on Monday morning, never really believing that I would still be there by Friday.”

Rona Francis

Rona Francis

But buoyed by the support of staff and her fellow students, Rona’s self-confidence increased – and she was soon celebrating the completion of her course.

“It was very difficult, but I soon made some good friends, some almost my age, which was quite a surprise. We were all on a rollercoaster of a journey, but we were guided and helped every step of the way.

“Before we knew it, the final presentation day had arrived, we were all so incredibly nervous, but we needn’t have been – we had been well prepared and had worked hard. The feeling of elation when we had passed was worth all the hard work.”

This led to acceptance onto a Child Health and Wellbeing degree, in which she gained first-class honours in 2017.

“The biggest shock of all was that I won an academic achievement award, presented by the Chancellor herself, which was a very proud moment. In no time at all it was the day of graduation, something I had secretly dreamt of for most of my life.

“I had started my academic journey, purely to prove to myself that I was capable, and with the intention of joining my husband in his retirement afterwards. However, as I came to the end of my studies, a fabulous new career came out of the blue.”

Rona became a Student Progress Manager for a ‘virtual’ school, Wolsey Hall Oxford, supporting home-schooled children in the UK and overseas.

“I love getting to know the students and finding out more about their situations”, she said. “They face many of the ups and downs I encountered. Many are being home-schooled due to problems they have encountered in mainstream school and suffer from the same lack of confidence that I had or are anxious about their studies.”

Currently undertaking her Masters in Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Wellbeing on a part-time basis, Rona is keen to continue to support her students, as well as boosting her self-belief and confidence.

“I can honestly say, that decision I made five years ago has been life changing. I have never been happier.”

Fastrack, which in June 2019 celebrates its 21st anniversary, offers adults the chance to gain the skills, understanding and confidence required for degree level, with training offered in essential study skills. The seven-week course is ideal for people who are looking to enter higher education but are not currently studying towards – or do not hold – the relevant Level 3 entry requirements.

To find out more about the Fastrack scheme, or to apply for the programme in 2020, see: