By Morgan, Mary | Daily Mail (London), June 10, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Morgan, Mary, Daily Mail (London)


MARTIN SHIELDS' promising career in the police force was dramatically cut short when he fell and damaged his back chasing a suspect.

But the former detective constable refused to let the debilitating injury stop him working in his chosen field. A decade after his accident the 40-year- old is poised to become a barrister specialising in criminal law after signing up for a law degree with the Open University.

Most OU degrees take six years but Mr Shields studied fulltime rather than parttime so he could complete the course in just three.

The beauty of the course was that it allowed Mr Shields to study at home.

His policewoman wife Gillian was working fulltime and he has three children - Rebecca, 15, Matthew, 12 and Grace, ten - so he was unable to go away to university.

Mr Shields, of Wetheral, near Carlisle, said: 'I joined the police in 1989.

Late one night, we were chasing some lads down a bank and I fell and damaged the lower part of my back. I was pretty seriously affected by it and quit the force in 1992.' After two operations and months of rest, Mr Shields embarked on an undergraduate OU law degree in 1999 at a cost of nearly [pounds sterling]8,000.

He continued: 'I had three young children to look after and my wife was working fulltime so it wasn't practical for me to go away to study. I found the OU teaching materials to be absolutely fantastic, and they were backed up by regular tutorials. I found it a very positive experience and would recommend it to everybody.' Now, Mr Shields is close to finishing a one-year Bar Vocation course run by the University of Northumbria and is seeking pupillage at a barristers' chambers.

He is part of a growing trend for students to opt for distance learning over traditional fulltime degree courses.

Home-based study is likely to be cheaper than living on campus and enables students to stay in paid work while they study. The OU has gone from strength to strength since its first degrees were awarded more than 30 years ago.

Courses do not require prior qualifications and most cost around [pounds sterling]400 to [pounds sterling]500 per year Students are allocated a tutor and use study materials, TV programmes and videos, as well as attending summer schools.

Affiliated to the OU is the 17-year- old Open College of the Arts (OCA), which offers correspondence courses for adults in the visual, performing and literary arts. Among its newest courses is the Introduction to the Creative Digital Arts, which allows budding artists and sculptors to harness the power of technology to hone their work.

Students must have a computer and a scanner, but the college provides special software to enable them to manipulate images on screen.

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