Birkbeck College is committed to providing primarily part-time undergraduate study and offering a range of part-time postgraduate study while being a leading research institution. About 99 per cent of its students are mature, and everything from learning strategy to student support is significantly oriented to the needs of part-time and mature students.
Nationally about 16 per cent of part-time students fail to complete their courses, compared with 8 per cent of full-time students - and this is also one of our key concerns.
Another concern is how we help mature part-time students fulfil their potential. Our Full-time Learning in Part-time Study programme combines enhancements to the face-to-face learning experience with off-campus learning activities. This builds on an online assessment and feedback project that is looking into how to provide instantaneous, precisely targeted feedback to students. The Olaaf project, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, also aims to help tutors design, deliver and coordinate their online assessment processes.
Another initiative is the Lifelong Learning Network, which will link some London University colleges and other partner universities with further education colleges. This will allow us to provide progression paths for mature and part-time students and enable an increasing number of learners to ultimately study at leading research-intensive institutions.
As part of the Lifelong Learning Network partnership, we hope to share knowledge about lifelong learning initiatives across higher and further education and to explore innovative ways of learning, such as work and community-based learning. As the number of mature part-time students in higher education grows, we must develop ways of ensuring they get the most out of studying.
John Annette is pro vice-master for widening participation and community partnerships, Birkbeck College, University of London.