Put flexibility at core of part-time provision, universities told

Many part-time students forced to miss part of their course, HEA survey finds

July 4, 2015
Multi-tasking

Universities need to be more aware of the flexibility that part-time students need, a report says.

A survey of 1,567 part-time learners in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, conducted for the Higher Education Academy, found that many had been forced to miss formal elements of study.

Among the reasons given in the survey were work and caring commitments, transport and timetabling difficulties, and health issues.

Of 433 Open University students questioned, 59 per cent had missed part of their course, while among 1,134 non-OU learners, the result was approximately 36 per cent.

In follow-up interviews, institutional inflexibility emerged as a key concern, John Butcher, a senior lecturer at The Open University, writes in the report.

One interviewee said that part-time students “don’t feel as valued” as their full-time peers, receiving late notice of timetabling, room bookings and which lecturer would be teaching them.

Another complained that a three-week deadline for an assignment was too short for students working full-time, and that a maximum one-week library book loan period was inflexible.

“Some interviewees felt they were an ‘inconvenience’, were ‘shoehorned’ or ‘side-lined’ and a lack of differentiation by study intensity felt like ‘one-size-fits-all’,” Dr Butcher says.

Stephanie Marshall, chief executive of the HEA, said that flexibility should be a “core focus” for universities when considering their part-time provision.

“We must be conscious of the heterogeneity of part-time students and address individual needs accordingly – whether that is in the mode, place or pace of study – and embed these in strategies for learning and teaching,” Professor Marshall said. “The diversity of part-time students brings great value to institutions: we should celebrate that as well as acknowledge their needs.”

Amid continuing decline in the number of people studying part-time in the UK, the study also highlights that a high proportion of part-time learners are female, carers, or the first in their family to study at higher level.

Many respondents said that, if they did not study part-time, they would not study at all, with cost and time concerns looming large.

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

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