A four-year academic odyssey for 24 soldiers was marked in style, sunshine and smiles as they assembled on the steps of Portsmouth’s magnificent Guildhall having received their bachelors’ degree certificates at Portsmouth University’s graduation ceremony.
It all started back in 2017 for them as they signed up to the Army’s pilot scheme, the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship. Its aim is to support soldiers through a complete degree course ending with them gaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Leadership and Management.
"I had an immense sense of pride when I walked out to collect my certificate especially hearing your name being called out and said ‘First Class Honours’, I really didn’t think I’d get that grade and I did." WO2 Andy Devlin, Irish Guards
Such was the success with 24 soldiers graduating with their BAs in Business Leadership and Management, an astonishing 19 with First Class Honours, the scheme is to be run again with applications being made in September – details are to be released on Defence Connect in due course
The course is funded through the Army Apprenticeship Levy, run on a distance learning basis and allows time off and pays expenses when required for them to attend course commitments. It is an overwhelmingly attractive proposition as many of those who have just come through this first tranche effuse.
True, the workload can be hard at times and each has to be fully committed to be able to dovetail their daily routine work with the study required, but as a piece of continual professional development the rewards speak for themselves; especially given that for the majority of those proudly clutching their certificates, by their own admission, joined the Army straight from school not having been exactly ‘top of the form’.
Irish Guards Company Sergeant Major, Andy Devlin BA explained; “I responded to an email that came out four years ago offering opportunities to do this degree. I left school with nothing, the highest I ever got was a ‘D’. My overall ambition is to be promoted and this will be a steppingstone towards that. My chain of command has been very supportive throughout the course. I am the first one in my family to get a university degree qualification, I never thought I’d be wearing a cap and gown and getting my picture taken like this. I had an immense sense of pride when I walked out to collect my certificate especially hearing your name being called out and said ‘First Class Honours’, I really didn’t think I’d get that grade and I did.
"I guess it’s a bit of a different uniform. It was huge relief to walk up and collect my certificate, very pleasing and humbling and of course very proud, a great day.” S/Sgt Alison Burns, Adjutant General's Corps
For Staff Sergeant Alison Burns, of the Adjutant General’s Corps working in Cyprus, her four years’ study to get here saw her overcome many challenges both personal and more general. If not having to work through a global pandemic whilst being posted overseas wasn’t stressful enough, Alison also managed to move house twice as well as buy one in Cornwall.
Alison also graduated with a First Class Honours said, “I just thought this was an incredible opportunity, whenever I have taken any career course I have always taken the additional accreditation; it’s always been an aspiration to get as qualified as possible whilst in the Army because one day we all have to leave.”
Chuckling to herself, Alison went on to say that she joined the Army as a last gasp to do something with her life, “I was never very academic at all – I had joined the Army cadets as a teenager thinking I’d give this a try and it just kept going well. The Army invested in me and through the courses they put me through I got a lot more confident. I never ever expected to be wearing a cap and gown – I guess it’s a bit of a different uniform. It was huge relief to walk up and collect my certificate, very pleasing and humbling and of course very proud, a great day.”
Summing up her experience of taking that educational leap of faith and achieving way above anything she dare imagine, Alison said: Alison said: "Not bad for a builder’s daughter who dropped out of everything beyond high school. I can't thank the Army enough for providing me with such incredible opportunities throughout my career to get me to this pinnacle.”