Pathways to success for evening degree graduates

Thursday 13 June 2024

Graduating from one of the world’s leading universities is always a cause for celebration, and it’s a particularly special day for five members of St Andrews part time degree cohort, who each graduated today with the award of Distinction. 

The Combined Studies programme of evening degrees was designed specifically for those who are new to higher education or returning to it after a significant break. Delivered on a part-time basis in the evening, the degrees are ideal for those who may have other commitments which prevent them from undertaking full-time study. 

“I attended University for a year when 18, but left to join the Royal Navy”, explains Natalie Lighten, who graduated with a Master of Arts (General). “I enjoyed my military service but left when I became a mother of two. I decided to pursue higher education again after a gap of 12 years after learning about the degree programme through a colleague at MOD Leuchars.” 

For Ishbel Valentine, it was a love of literature which inspired her to apply. “I have always been a bit of an eclectic reader and decided that the ideal time had arrived for me to get a bit more structured and focussed on one topic at a time, yet still journey through many interesting areas of study.  

“We had finally waved goodbye to primary school life for my children and they were settled in secondary school, so there were more hours which I could use to sink in to studies.”  

After initially embarking on the Master of Arts, Ishbel gathered more science modules during her studies, and graduated today with a BSc in General Science. She was also awarded the Fife Provost Prize for Evening Student of the Year.  

Rhona Frood is the Head of Development (Design & Quality) in the Estates team at St Andrews, and responsible for the design and quality of new build Capital projects and refurbishment. Driven by a desire to understand more about how students experience spaces used for teaching and learning, she began her MA degree eight years ago. 

Rhona’s main focus areas during the degree were art history and English which, she says, helped her gain confidence in her ability to present arguments more effectively and deepened her analytical and writing skills.  

“When I gained my design diploma in the 1980’s, I was told by my teachers that I wasn’t good enough for university. The challenge of studying for a degree also presented an opportunity to banish some personal insecurities!” she adds. 

In graduating today with the support of her family, including children Calum and Amy, she’s certainly put that record straight. Gaining a real-life understanding of the student journey and experience along the way. “Everything I learned in the process influences my work in project development.”  

Lorna Bald had aspired to be a teacher before pursuing a career in the civil service. Initially embarking on an evening degree at the University of Dundee, she transferred to St Andrews to diversify her module choices, and graduated today with an MA in Combined Studies.  

This year’s graduating cohort faced the additional challenges of studying through the Covid-19 pandemic. “I studied through Covid (from second year)”, says Natalie Lighten, “So the change to online learning and losing ready access to course-mates for a catch-up or a quick sanity check was challenging. We found new ways to connect, though, and having the option of online learning has helped me complete the degree, particularly around childcare. My son and daughter became regular fixtures on some modules giving me a goodnight kiss during my lecture!” 

The quality of the teaching and strong sense of community have been highlights of the study experience for each of the graduates.  “I can hand-on-heart say that every single module I took, as diverse as they were, were all superb”, says Ishbel Valentine. “The lecturers were passionate and fellow students always heavily engaged in the evening modules. There was never an evening of quiet, always lots of input and discussion. I learned so much from lecturers and classmates alike; opinions, perceptions, thoughts, and musings on our studied topics – always a good evening of chat, and lots of entertainment too.” 

“I have enjoyed the obvious warmth and appreciation all of the evening degree lecturers have for their students”, adds Natlie Lighten. “They are very understanding of the pressure we can be under managing our learning with family life and full-time work. I was never made to feel that I was a burden and they have so much passion about what they teach.” 

Amid the excitement of the celebrations, the graduates have shared their pride in how they have overcome the challenges of the degree to develop qualities and skills which benefit their personal and professional lives. 

“I feel proud of myself for sticking with the degree, and graduating with distinction”, reflects Natalie. “The programme has helped teach me that I have the skills and determination to do most things I set my mind to, and I have used this new confidence to try new things. I was successful in a promotion at work and have got involved in local committees and community groups who value my input.” 

“It’s not as scary and as long as it may seem!”, she adds. “I was certainly daunted when I read the degree programme can take up to 9 years as a part-time student, but in my own experience my five-year study has flown by. The University is great at understanding about pressures part-time students are under and can offer great advice on modules that may suit. I found the option to study some Open University modules through the programme helpful. The range of modules available means you will always find something to keep you interested and motivated to keep going!” 

The challenge of studying for a degree presented an opportunity to banish some personal insecurities!”, reveals Rhona, who recommends the degree to anyone who is considering the opportunity for themselves. “Challenge yourself and achieve. Do something meaningful.” 

My time at St Andrews has meant a lot to me”, says Ishbel. “I realise how much I enjoy the learning journey and fully intend to keep moving along that path. If anyone is considering taking a course, but are unsure, I would say to jump in, give yourself the time that you deserve.” 

If you are inspired by these graduates’ stories and want to learn more about the Combined Studies flexible evening degree, visit Combined Studies MA (General) – Subjects – University of St Andrews ( to find out more. Applications are currently open for a start in September 2024!  

If you have any questions about flexible evening study, you can contact the lifelong learning team at [email protected] 


Category Graduation

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