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A woman who has managed to fit in university-level studies around being a full-time carer has encouraged others to consider taking Higher Education qualifications.

Rose Fernandes, a mature student, is a full-time carer to her grown-up daughter, Crystal, and her mother Maria, yet is still making excellent progress in a Foundation Degree in Care Management.

Crystal (20), has autism, and Maria (78), was diagnosed with dementia in 2005. Both need round the clock care at home and have regular appointments with doctors, social workers and carers which Rose must supervise.

Rose is one of 180 students on Higher Education (HE) courses - university-level courses which can help students enter honours degrees in the second and third years, and are highly valued by industry.

Many students are now taking HE courses at college - including Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas (HNCs and HNDs) as well as Foundation Degrees - because it is cheaper and more convenient than studying at university.

Rose, who lives in North London, said: "For me doing the course has been a real learning experience, as a mature student to come back and get my mind working again. It is going to be such a joy when I get my diploma - it is a miracle I have got this far. It has also helped me to understand the health care system - it has opened my eyes.

"I would advise other people to consider coming back to college. For me it has also given me a break from what I have to do at home, and I have made friends."

Rose, whose husband died of cancer when Crystal was just two years old, said: "I never had a chance to do anything for myself because I had to care for my daughter and my husband. I wanted a chance to get the qualifications for when the time comes for me to go back to work and support other carers - the course was also relevant to my mum and my daughter."

She said it could be a struggle to find time to do her college work: "The time I can work on assignments is at 3am or 4am when everything else is done. One night I got two hours sleep in order to finish an assignment. When you are a carer it can be very tiring - it is physically and emotionally draining."

In addition to her studies and caring responsibilities, Rose has worked hard to raise awareness of the challenges facing all carers.

She recently appeared on the BBC news launching the Government's New Deal for Carers, £33million made available for emergency respite care, and articles have also been written about her in the New Statesman and on Carers UK website.

Rose is one of many students on all types of courses who have used the College's student support services, in her case to get advice about supporting herself financially through the course.

She said: "The member of staff who helped me was very, very good - she was brilliant."

Rose, who has a keen interest in nutrition, keeps herself going by eating healthily and swears by an organic plant powder called super-greens by Dr. Robert O Young, which she mixes with water and drinks throughout the day.

She said: "It does look like pond water but helps keep me going - and my classmates will always remember me for it!"

Laura Bailey, Health and Social Care lecturer at Uxbridge College, said: "For Rose caring for her family is a full-time and exhausting job, but she is still able to work for a voluntary organization, attend college, and get her work done to a high standard. We would like to extend our congratulations to Rose in her continuing drive to raise awareness of the difficulties in being a carer, and to wish her all the best in higher education and for the future."

• For more information about taking Higher Education qualifications at Uxbridge College call 01895 853333.

For more about Rose see: http://www.carersuk.org/Aboutus/Whoarecarers/RoseFernandes and http://www.newstatesman.com/200606120035


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