I understand your comment about feeling a little handicapped but in all honesty, having 20 years of experience is a really big advantage. I remember when I did my MSc straight after my BEng in Civil Engineering, I could not fully appreciate parts of the syllabus as I didn’t have any practical experience and as a result, no actual feel for the numbers. When I started working, and say after 2-3 years, the whole MSc syllabus/modules were much more clear and made so much more sense. Therefore, with 20 or years of experience, you certainly have an advantage. Although new design and construction methods emerge, the soil mechanics principles remain the same! Same applies for foundations, retaining structures, earthworks and so on! There are different requirements nowadays in the industry, for instance the use of Eurocodes, but like I said, the engineering principles remain more or less the same. So, you can feel more optimistic!
In all honesty, when I was a student and had a question, it was very easy to have an appointment with the lecturers and discuss areas of interest. I always found the whole faculty very friendly and very easy to talk to – just knock on their door and you can have a nice informal conversation. I think the faculty will be very keen to help you as they would do with any other student.
Apart from studying and going to the library, you can potentially attend various seminars (some of them are held in the University of Birmingham) such as Midlands Geotechnical Society (http://www.midlandgeotechnicalsociety.org.uk/). At the end of the day, this is a university degree and you need to spend some time studying! I want to believe that having some experience in ground engineering, studying will be easier for you (although I appreciate we are not 20 years old anymore!).
Part of the course requires laboratory testing. I believe you can also choose a lab based project/dissertation, where you can spend a few months undertaking these tests, discussing the methodology and results with your supervisor, so there will be enough time for you to develop a better understanding and gain some of the practical skills on these aspects of testing. If there is a suitable opportunity, you may be able to work with a real company and undertake testing which will could also be beneficial to them!
The MSc will enhance your analytical skills, design skills and make you aware of different construction methods. In order to become Chartered Engineer, you will also need to develop abilities in project management, have experience of different contracts and various commercial and financial aspects of a business considering amongst other things quality, health and safety, sustainability, environmental issues etc. These are all things that come with experience but as you already have 20 years you may be well on your way towards Chartership. Best thing is to go to Institution of Civil Engineers website (www.ice.org.uk) and look at the requirements and become more familiar with different routes.
In conclusion, I suggest that you try and meet the conditional offer and if that’s done, then you can discuss with the faculty in greater detail. Of course, if you think I can assist you in one way or another, please get in touch!
All the best and good luck!