January start lures new type of entrant

January 3, 2003

Thousands of students are starting higher education courses this month, avoiding the stress and rush associated with autumn enrolment.

Most are mature, part-time or otherwise "non-traditional" participants, but the University of Staffordshire, which is promoting numerous January-start courses, felt it was an option that would appeal to all types of student.

Staffordshire offers about 40 courses with a new year start, in disciplines across its eight schools. In 2002, 383 students joined in January. This year the university expected many more.

Chris Taylor, Staffordshire's head of marketing, said: "In the case of full-time students, they may be joining in January because they missed the start of the normal academic year. But the main group is part-time students who welcome the flexibility of being able to start in January."

Mr Taylor said offering more flexibility was a key part of the university's effort to widen participation. "The way that courses are run has become much more flexible with modularisation," he said.

The university was using January starts to offer access options such as a programme called "Your experience counts", under which professional people without traditional qualifications could enrol.

A January start is also helpful for some overseas students, who may need an English-language booster course and induction programme before embarking on a degree course in September.

Mehreen Kalam from Pakistan joined a "bridging semester" in January last year as part of a BSc in computer science. This filled a gap between spending two years at the Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology and starting an industrial placement last July.

She said: "When I came to England, I had to settle into the new environment. That prepared me for my industrial placement. It would have been a problem if I had had to wait until September. It would have been a waste of a year."

Alfred Jealouse said he might never have gained his BA in business administration had he not been able to start a "top-up" year in January.

After gaining a higher national diploma at the University of Central England, he travelled the world for two years. On his return, he found he had time on his hands and decided to see what was on offer at Staffordshire.

"I discovered I could start a top-up course the next week. It was very convenient. If I had had to wait until September, I may have had other ideas because I was in a state of limbo," he said.

Starting his studies in January was not all plain sailing, however. He found that the university's administrative systems had not caught up with the new flexibility in its academic programmes.

"I had to fill in two sets of forms for things such as hardship grants. All the paperwork was geared to students starting in September," he said.

Mr Taylor conceded that the university's administration was not yet up to speed. "That is something we need to work on to make sure that that side of things is as flexible as our courses," he said.

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