Case Study – Greer Harris

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Not many parents of teenagers start studying for their degree in their 50s. Greer Harris is the exception however. When she started out in journalism in the late 1960s, following in her father’s footsteps, he told her she didn’t need a degree to get ahead in her chosen career – proper journalists learn on the job, he said,  and graduates wouldn’t know a story if you hit them over the head with one!

After a lengthy and successful career as a reporter and feature writer in the regions and in Fleet Street, Greer was made redundant. She had often thought she would like to study English Literature at university and realised that this was the time to do it. She is now taking a part-time degree in English and American literature at the University of Kent. Greer had thought she might study full-time, but Kent wouldn’t take her as she didn’t have A Levels, ‘I thought it was ironic that a decision I made 40 years ago mattered now, particularly after years spent on an upmarket broadsheet where standards were very high and I was editing the work of prime ministers!’

Greer, who lives in East Sussex by the sea, has one daughter and a step-daughter. Her daughter, who is now 22, is taking an MA in London, where Greer supports her living expenses, which she finds a bit of a challenge – ‘She has expensive tastes! However, I’m trying to encourage her to live more cheaply, like us students have to do.’ Greer also finds it amusing that that they are studying ‘in tandem’ and says her daughter has been very helpful in showing her how to footnote and other academic things that she hates.

Although not a typical student, Greer has managed to get funding to support her studies – her entire course fees are paid by a government grant. She is obviously pleased about that fact but emphasises that she has paid tax for forty years.

She says she’s doing her degree for her own satisfaction just to prove that she can but is thoroughly enjoying reading all the books, plays and poetry she meant to read but never had the time. Although Greer is not sure what she will actually do with her degree once she’s got it – having already had a long career – but she is particularly interested in adult literacy. She said ‘I’ve loved reading all my life and I can’t imagine how awful it must be not to be able to read. So many doors are shut to you – you can’t even fill in a form. I would like to be able to help people in that way – teenagers in prison for instance’.

Greer says she would certainly recommend taking a degree once you’ve got the time to do all the work involved, whatever age you are. ‘It gives my life a focus, keeps my brain going and gives me a goal to aim for’.

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