Academics in Northern Ireland face much tougher teaching duties as they cope with a long-term slump in the number of traditional full-time students, it was warned this week.
The province is expecting the worst demographic downturn within the UK, with vice-chancellors projecting a 13.2 per cent fall in the number of full-time undergraduates by 2019-20.
Tony Gallagher, head of the School of Education at Queen's University Belfast, said there would be an increase in the number of part-time students across the university, at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and that the university would have to move away from "nine-to-five thinking".
"There is going to be a greater imperative in every school to engage in part-time study," he said.
The School of Education had successfully developed concentrated two-and-a-half day "packets" of study in its taught doctorate, and was now focusing on short-burst masters modules. "For staff, it's generally seen as very tough to do, because you're having to concentrate for extended periods of time," he said. "But it's very, very rewarding, and just about everybody who works on it enjoys it."
Queen's has recently experienced an increase in recruitment to its part-time general undergraduate degree, which until now had been in long-term decline. Professor Gallagher speculated that the credit crunch might lead to more people studying while staying in work.
"At the moment, the degree operates on traditional evening classes. But if this is the start of a new trend, we would want to think about innovation there as well," he said.
He added that the priority in the School of Education was to ensure that the part-time student experience was as good as could be and as close as possible to that of a traditional student.
"We're trying to get the entire system to move away from the nine-to-five type of thinking."
MEANS-TESTING MOOTED IN WALES
The blanket tuition fee discount for Welsh undergraduates studying in Wales should be scrapped in favour of a means-tested system, a leaked report has recommended.
Welsh students at Welsh universities currently pay £1,255 in fees compared with more than £3,000 paid by those studying at most English universities.
A task force headed by Merfyn Jones, the vice-chancellor of the University of Bangor, has recommended that a means-tested grant replace the discount, which costs £61 million a year, the BBC reported. It proposes that the most disadvantaged students be given up to £6,000 as a direct grant to be spent on maintenance or tuition fees.
The group, which was set up in June by the Welsh Assembly, also wants the £15,000 threshold income for student loan repayment to rise to £18,000-£20,000.