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Travels with my Portable University


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So I'm sat beneath an olive tree, a shady shelter from the warm Spanish sun. The lapping sound of Lake Zahara mingles with the bee eaters chirping overhead. To hand is a simple picnic of local cured meats and a hunk of rustic bread. Between mouthfuls of chorizo I'm struggling to get my head around Lotka-Volterra equations. Maybe a dip in those cool waters will clear my noodle. Welcome to my study.

Steveb Primrose-SmithWell, that's the plan. In March I set off on a cycling adventure that will take me to every one of the fifty capitals of Europe and lots of amazing places in between, a total of around 20,000 miles. I appreciate that this sounds more like a gap year endeavour, but for me this is full-time university education. The next three years – the duration of my ride – will hopefully see me complete two degrees with The Open University, a BSc in Mathematics and a BSc in Physical Science. All studying will be on the road. Well, not on the road itself. That'd be dangerous.

Tuition fee rises aside, we live in fortunate times. Technology has become so portable that the space and weight of a single hardback can now host the library necessary for an entire degree. And there's a whole heap of universities offering distance undergraduate and postgrad courses. Distance learning plus portability equals freedom. And with ubiquitous WiFi enabling internet research on the move, you can now live the educational experience you probably never even dreamt of, combining your studies with whichever activity sets your pulse racing. You could even combine your studies with a BASE jumping tour. That's one way to avoid paying back the fees. 

Of course, I'll have challenges that students wouldn't usually have. In halls of residence, recharging a laptop isn't a problem. But I'll be camping – even wild camping – most of the time and sockets might be harder to find than Jedward's talent. Luckily my Kindle keeps its charge for weeks, even when well-used. The odd visit to a budget hostel should keep me powered. There's also the additional trial of getting to occasional residential courses. I have an Open University astronomy residential in Majorca this September. I bet I'm the only one turning up by bike.

This style of study obviously won't work for every course. You're not going to get a medical degree while pootling around the world on a bike, leaving a trail of dismembered cadavers in your wake. But for those whose subjects can be confined to a netbook, there are additional benefits over a traditional education and its narrow, focussed learning. Stuffed full of extra curricular activities, my ride will involve modern languages as I cycle through thirty different linguistic regions. (I'm currently working on my Polish, which, by the way, is a complete arse of a language.) I'll also enjoy art history whenever I'm near a decent gallery. Then there's geography, geology, modern and ancient history, culinary studies and maybe even some First Aid if I go over the handlebars. Let's hope there's still some room for those Lotka-Volterra equations. 

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