Head Of Enrolments By Day. Rockstar Photographer By Night
Meet Paul Dixon - the new enrolments manager at Oxbridge. With decades of experience under his belt offering people expert advice, Paul is here to take our student advice team to the next level! He's got a strong vision for the future of Oxbridge, which is going to make enrolling onto your dream course easier than ever before. So, we thought we'd grab five minutes with him to give you an insight into Paul's world.
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your role at Oxbridge
My name’s Paul, and I’m the new enrolments manager at Oxbridge. My duty is to ensure the advisory team continues to deliver the best service to students going forward. What this means is offering advice that guides them down the right path to future success. The role was recently created to add a fresh level of support for students and the college, which has grown rapidly in size in the last four years. Everyone's been so welcoming, making it easy to settle into the college quickly.
The driving factor to everything I do is making a real difference. When people find success, I get great satisfaction from that.
How did you get to where you are today?
When I left college, I began a 16-year-long finance career with Halifax. I joined during that pre-computer period where we used typewriters! And like many others, I started from the bottom and worked my way to the top. Eventually, I was running branches, managing teams, and helping thousands of people get from A to B as a mortgage adviser. The driving factor for me was about making a real difference, enabling people to buy their homes with confidence while avoiding the sharks looking to rip them off.
So you came from a finance background. What brought you to Oxbridge?
It’s quite personal, really. I’ve got a deaf sister, and my daughter has dyslexia. We’ve endured some serious challenges with the traditional education system, such as a lack of support and guidance, or inability to adapt to basic student needs. With this in mind, and with my background in advisory support, I wanted to make a positive industry change. I wanted to create opportunities that would help people achieve their goals and get the education they deserve with the right support. Oxbridge’s vision for learning fit this mark.
Tell us about a day in the life of an enrolments manager
No two days are the same because no two students are the same. I never know what the day is going to look like. That makes it exciting! I’ll have a checklist of what needs completing, but then I’ll work with my team to help all kinds of students. We get loads of enquiries, such as how course qualifications will help in the real world. We also get questions about university pathways or what skills can be learned to get them there. I match queries with the perfect adviser who is well-versed in a particular subject area.
What do you think makes a great adviser?
Attention to detail. Desire to make a difference. A people person who likes getting on the phone, chatting with learners, and showing them just how their goals are possible. We offer over 250 courses, so advisers need to deliver information efficiently and with poise. That means knowing the ins and outs of courses, awarding bodies, paths to success, branching areas of study or skills learners will acquire. Ultimately, it’s about being relatable and empathetic to people’s needs and goals.
It's a nice feeling to have someone on your side. For students, we're that best friend who's always there to give good advice.
How do you think this helps current and potential students?
It’s a nice feeling to have someone on your side, like a best friend who’s ready to listen to what’s on your mind and give you great advice. We’re that best friend! Distance learning isn’t about alienation; it’s about trust, guidance, and helping you to a better life through education. Because our advisers are supportive, learners can talk about their dreams and concerns, have a laugh, explore their future or courses to get there on their terms.
What makes Oxbridge different from other colleges?
The drive of its people and students who’ve helped it grow. The culture is phenomenal. On my first day, I was greeted with such warmth and energy that I immediately felt at home! I’ve never felt so welcomed in any company before. The way the team treats one another and helps students grow and perform to their best ability is very encouraging. To ensure it all runs smoothly, there’s a great feedback scheme and the directors welcome fresh ideas. It's a good system.
What inspires you to help people?
Simply fulfilment in making a difference. There’s great satisfaction in helping people get from point A to B. When someone says thank you, that’s even better! Aha… That reminds me of a great story I've got about helping a woman in her sixties become a rockstar photographer...
When I’m not advising or working at the college, 70% of my spare time is spent as a photographer. I’ve been photographing for over 20 years, taking photos of some of the greatest British acts in the music industry. One day, a lady approached me at a concert. She’d just retired and didn’t want to sit around the house all day. She said, ‘I want to be a rock chick photographer.’
Everyone has to start somewhere
She had no experience and no idea how to get gigs. Likewise, she had no idea where to take photographs or even how to use a camera. Despite this, she was determined, and I was impressed so I agreed to help her. And, in the last 12 months, I've been teaching her all about photography. In her words, I'd become her mentor. We'd have regular meetings where we'd discuss settings, angles, and share photos over a cup of coffee. I'd share tips about my style, and as she developed hers, I learned new things, too. She was eager to learn, hungry, and I thrived on feeding that passion for a subject area I wholly loved.
Chasing the dream
Now, she’s just set up her own company and website. She’s partnering with companies in Sweden, Norway, and America. She’s out six nights a week photographing bands in her sixties and having the time of her life! Her goal is to go to every festival in 2020, making memories, contacts and taking photos.
If helping someone achieve success like that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is. What’s more inspiring is that she proved age is just a number. If you've got the drive to learn a new skill, you can. And I'll always be there to give advice, whether as a manager or a friend.
What advice would you give to others thinking of learning a new skill?
Talk to an expert. Do your research. Bring your research to the discussion. Tell the person you are talking to, such as an adviser, what you want to achieve. Don’t be afraid to talk about your worries, hurdles or obstacles- whether they’re physical or mental challenges you’ve faced in the past or right now, because they can offer valuable advice. It will enable you to make better decisions and make greater strides towards your goals. Likewise, once enrolled on a course, talk to your tutor. They are there to make a real difference in your learning journey.
Were you a good student?
Yes… and no. Let me explain. As a student, I had a special ability for learning. I didn’t have to work very hard to get good grades. I was academically inclined and so passing exams and writing essays was easy. In a way, being smart was a detriment. I didn’t push myself hard enough and just went with the flow. If I pushed myself, who knows, maybe I could have been a doctor. Yet, I don’t base life around ‘What ifs’ but ‘Can-dos’ such as, I can make a difference by supporting people to accomplish their goals.
I went to a no-nonsense Catholic secondary school where most of the teachers were very, very strict. Discipline is important, however, I found they could be very human too. They were people who were understanding despite being tough. We’d often get told well done when we produced good work. It's something I’ve taken into my working life. I try to say well done to at least one person once every day. This is something that translates into our tutors' communication with our learners too. Just being human.
There are experts out there just waiting to share their wisdom. I found my experts, and passion, in learning photography.
So, if you had the chance to go back and do it all again, would you?
In hindsight, knowing what I know now, yes, I would. But that’s the beauty of distance learning; you don’t have to live with the regret of hindsight. You can learn skills today by simply picking up the phone. It’s that easy. And the best thing is, you can choose which courses you want to study or, thankfully, avoid. There are experts out there just waiting to share their wisdom with people. I found my experts, and passion, in learning photography.
What are your key strengths as an adviser and manager?
I’m naturally an encouraging person. I spend a lot of time learning about human nature so I can empathise better with others. And I’ll always try to motivate someone, even if it means kicking them up the butt, metaphorically speaking. I like to think I’m a good shoulder to rely on in times of need. I’ve gotten good at recognising the right approach depending on who I’m talking to, which is the result of years of experience in managing people.
Learning a new skill, what’s more appealing? Distance or classroom learning?
100% distance learning. Classrooms have too many distractions, and based on my daughter’s experiences, I think changes need to be made. That’s not to say all classrooms are bad; they have stood the test of time. Just that with the way learning is going, it's online. Virtual. It’s studying where you like without competing with 30 other learners. It’s studying on your terms. So, if you need a few days to nail a topic, you can. You won’t be left behind. Having that power to study at their own pace with unlimited support is something current and past learners relish.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing students today?
People have short attention spans. There’s so much information out there and too many distractions: social media, YouTube, blogs, forums, tons of websites with minimal credibility professing to be experts. It’s so easy to dive into videos, podcasts, and topics, that maintaining interest in a subject has diminished greatly. So, it’s about presenting education in a way people now consume information. Bitesize, interactive, accessible. This approach helps people succeed.
Got any hacks for lifelong learners?
The best way to retain information is by learning in various ways: reading it, vocalising it, writing it, recording & listening to it, discussing it with others. Knowing a specific topic from all angles makes it easier to digest. Back in the day, when I had to write notes on presentations or lectures, I’d get a dictaphone and record the presentation. I’d play it back to myself, repeating it and writing it down over and over. When you repeat something five to seven times it becomes a habit.
The best way to retain information is by learning in various ways: reading it, vocalising it, writing it, recording & listening.
List five adjectives that make a winning learner
There are many… but off the top of my head:
What do you do for enjoyment outside of work?
I like spending time with my wife and daughter. My wife’s into ice hockey, would you believe. I’ve got a match to go to next week. It’s not a bad day out to be fair unless you’re shouting for different teams! In my younger days, I played a lot of football. Lately, I’ve been holding my hands over my eyes with the way my football team has been performing; they’re going through bad times. When I'm not with my family or watching football, I work actively as a photographer.
What got you into photography?
Honest answer? I was spending too much money going to gigs. And my wife said, ‘You’re spending too much money going to gigs.’ On Facebook, I had a friend who was a music photographer and I asked him ‘How hard is this?’ I had some upcoming gigs and he gave me some great advice for getting started: “Just contact them and say, ‘I’m not going to cost you anything, can I come and take some photos and you can use them if you like them?’” The band said yes.
I literally bought a second-hand camera off eBay for £250 and a £99 lens, which I still use to this day. You don’t get good overnight, but with time and listening to the experts, I grew and now I photograph hundreds of events.
The first step to learning any skill is biting the bullet. Literally jump in and do your research and talk to an expert.
What steps do you take to gain new skills or talents?
The first step is biting the bullet. When I want to learn something, I dive in with research, follow experts, consume video content and podcasts to get a solid grounding of the subject area. I start on social media, YouTube, and then Google things like ‘How to be…’ or ‘I want to become…’ For example, when new to photography, I signed up to a group named ‘How to Become a Photographer’ on Facebook and would trawl answers given to common questions.
Ultimately, I always take the step of contacting experts, stating that ‘I’m starting out. Can you give me some pointers?’ I did this as a photographer and two came back to me, both of whom I’m good friends with today - one works for the BBC. Everyone has a tutor for something, much in the way learners at Oxbridge need a tutor to guide them through a course. You learn best from the experts firsthand.
What’s the best thing about working for Oxbridge, right now?
It’s exciting, I think. I feel valued with what I’ve brought to the role. And it doesn’t feel like I’m doing a job. It’s weird. The days are never long enough, and it flies. I’m wary that if the bosses read this that there may be extra tasks coming my way. But seriously, it’s about moving with the time. We have a powerful vision and I know we’ll get to where we need to be in 2020 and beyond!