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23 June 2021

Women in engineering


Hayley Little
Former Access to HE Diploma in Engineering student

Before I started my Access to HE Diploma in Engineering, I was in and out of work in a series of dead-end jobs and struggling to find any permanent, full-time work.

I had been thinking about going into engineering for a while. I looked at apprenticeships and applied for quite a few, without success, so with the start of the academic year coming up, I attended an open day at Middlesbrough College. I hadn’t heard of Access to HE Diplomas before, but when I approached a member of staff to ask about doing a BTEC in engineering, they advised me to look at an Access to HE Diploma in Engineering instead because the course could be completed within one year and I would be studying alongside other mature students. It was also designed as a route into university which is needed to become an engineer. I thought it sounded ideal and signed up to the course.

Financially I didn’t have any problems, because I didn’t need to pay for the course as it was my first level 3 qualification. Also, with it being part-time, I managed to get a job in a bar whilst studying. Managing study around work and other commitments wasn’t an issue for me either. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of work, and at any one time there was at least one assignment I was working on. But it was easy enough to keep on top of it. I used to have Wednesdays off and could get work done then, and on days when classes finished early, I would stay back to do work. This allowed me to keep most of my evenings and weekends study free. It also meant that I didn’t have to cram in a load of study at the end of the year for final exams because there was a steady stream of assignments and feedback throughout the year.

The College staff were really helpful and approachable if I needed any extra help on coursework or university applications, and everyone on the course got on really well and we would help each other out too.

When I went for my university interview, the fact that I was studying an Access to HE Diploma was mentioned, but the interviewer was familiar with the qualification and said that previously there had been a few other students who had come in through the same route and they had gone on to do really well.

Having regular coursework in the Access to HE course prepared me for the workload involved in studying at degree level at Teesside University. A lot of things I studied were covered in the first year of my degree too, which allowed me to focus on subjects that I was weaker at, such as maths. Some of the students I had studied with at college went on to study the same degree and we continued to help and support each other throughout university too.

On my last day at university, I rushed from my technical interview on my dissertation straight to a job interview which was successful! I have been working as a process engineer in the petrochemicals industry ever since. As the Access to HE Diploma covered a range of engineering - mechanical, chemical, and electrical - I think it helped me enormously in the workplace with communicating and working with colleagues from different disciplines.

Completing the Access to HE course was one of the best things I have ever done, and it has completely turned my life around. It has made me much more confident and allowed me to prove I can achieve things – I haven’t looked back since!

I would tell anyone who is thinking about doing the Access to HE Diploma to just go for it! Another thing I would say, is start thinking about university early on - what degree you want to study and what career you want. The Access to HE course I studied covered a range of engineering disciplines, so there was a chance to see which ones I liked and disliked the most before applying to university, but it comes around so quick and you will be filling out your university application within weeks of starting the Access to HE course! Making this decision so quickly, and completing the application, was probably the hardest part of the course.


QAA has managed the scheme for the recognition and quality assurance of Access to HE courses since 1997. We work to make sure that Access to HE courses provide a good preparation for higher education for adult students, and that the standard for the award of Access to HE Diplomas is maintained across England and Wales. Find out more on the Access to HE website.