Mikki’s story – two children, two university courses and a battle to fund her place at Oxford University

Posted 14 June 2021

As a single mum to two girls, Mikki completed an Access to Education course and went on to graduate in Early Childhood Studies from the University of East London. In March 2021, she was offered a heavily competitive place at Oxford University to study for her MA in Education Research, Design and Methodology. A passionate children’s rights advocate, she plans to put her impressive education to good use by becoming a researcher and working within government to make the primary curriculum more inclusive, address children’s mental health and become more accessible to all.

At the time of writing, having successfully applied for student finance for her MA, Mikki is just a few thousand pounds away from her dream to study at Oxford University. Follow Mikki’s story on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.

Where it all began

Do you remember being a child and dreaming of the future, wondering what job you’d have – listing all the fun things you could do as an adult because you felt so restricted as a child? I do. But, the older I became, the more I realised just how difficult it would be to fulfil those childhood dreams; I’d underestimated how unfair life can sometimes be.

Gaining a place at the local grammar school, I often heard “can your parents afford to send you here?”. In all honesty… they couldn’t. My family’s circumstances meant that, throughout my time in secondary school, we were repeatedly made homeless; there was never anywhere consistent for me to study and nobody to turn to. Despite this, I remember always thinking, “It’ll be fine”.

After leaving school and feeling free of financial judgement, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to be on my own and be independent.

In 2010, at the age of 19, I gave birth to my first daughter and for the first time in my life, I felt purpose. I wanted her to have everything I never did and to protect her from the world in which I grew up. Working two jobs as a single mother, I longed to have a career to make her proud. I’d worked an array of jobs ranging from bar work to selling timeshares but I could never progress to anything else due to financial struggles: if I worked more, the price of childcare would take away any earnings. Whenever I looked for another job, the hours would never be flexible enough for a single mother. It was a constant, vicious cycle. Although these positions were not my dream careers, I kept hearing the same things from a range of fellow employees who were struggling with any aspect of their life: “I’ve felt like this since I was a child”. The more I heard this, the more I wondered how their outlook on life could change if they’d had different educational experiences. This thought process is what eventually lead me on my academic journey.

My Academic Journey

After completing an Access to Teaching course, I began my undergraduate study at a university close to home, studying Early Years. However, the module I loved the most wasn’t the focus of the degree and something in my heart told me the course wasn’t right for me: I transferred to the University of East London to study Early Childhood Studies. The modules were different, though, and I had to retake my second year. Within this year, I fell pregnant with my second daughter. My lecturers were incredibly supportive but, due to a difficult pregnancy and relationship breakdown, I was unable to complete the year.

It was at that point that I felt as if my degree just wasn’t meant to be. Slowly, I started to give up. I took a year out – but the university didn’t give up on me. I received calls from them offering support for me to retake my second year again – and, based on medical grounds of a difficult pregnancy, I went back in 2019. “Third time lucky, Mum!” my eldest daughter Isabelle told me. The fight or flight mode kicked in: this time, no hurdle or difficult circumstance was going to stop me.

The end is in sight!

Over the last two years of (finally!) completing my degree, my university lecturers were my saviours. They constantly told me that I could achieve great things despite the workload and the challenges COVID-19 brought. I achieved high grades and I finally felt like I fitted in.

Research modules and children’s advocacy became not just an interest but something I found myself talking to my friends about, to my sisters… sometimes even the cat! My passion for changing children’s lives strengthened and my dissertation topic came to light: addressing issues within government policies that don’t include children, almost as if their voices were supposed to be hidden. The thought of my children – or any child – feeling the same as I had when I was young became added a strong layer of emotion to the intellectual process.

The Oxford Dream

I quickly began to realise that to make the big changes for children’s lives that I want to, I need to go where the best opportunities are for my postgraduate study: Oxford University. I applied for their Education Research, Design and Methodology MA programme, received an interview invitation and March 2021… I received my offer! Only ten people were successful in gaining a place and I was one of them!

I thought back to my secondary school experience – “Can you afford to be here?” – and that ecstatic feeling quickly fizzled out. I’d been so excluded there. As the weeks passed, I started to worry – and then I found out that my application for a scholarship hadn’t been successful. I called Oxford University and began to worry that perhaps single mums from less privileged backgrounds just don’t belong here. I felt for sure that Early Childhood studies still just doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves.

I was told I’d have to fund the £14,000 tuition fee myself.

Feeling as though a carrot had been dangled in front of me, I thought maybe this hurdle was too big to jump. My lecturer told me not to give up, suggesting that I start a GoFundMe to try and get the money together. Since the page has been live, I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by people’s kindness, donating and sharing the fundraiser. My long term goal of working in research and, eventually, for the government to change the primary curriculum to be more inclusive, address children’s mental health, and become more accessible for every child could still be in sight – if I can reach my target.

The biggest achievement, however, would be for my two girls to see that any hurdle can be jumped and that, no matter how difficult things can seem, anything is achievable.