Supporting part-time students

Almost every analysis of higher education trends suggests that the image of the typical university student as someone who recently completed secondary education and who now studies full-time for an undergraduate degree will soon be out-of-date. With the growth of lifelong learning and second chance education, and with increasing pressures on students to earn money alongside their studies, it is likely that mature part-time students will become almost as common as the full-time school-leaver. Add to this the likely need for re-skilling that many people will experience in the course of their working lives, and you can see that the typical student – if there will be any such person at all – may turn out to be quite different in future.

This being so, it is odd and perhaps disturbing that the state’s higher education framework often does not support what is or should be public policy. In a number of countries that do not have tuition fees – including Scotland and Ireland – part-time students still have to pay their way and are not exempt from fees. As it happens, these are exactly the people who should be encouraged to participate in higher education and who often, because of their socio-economic backgrounds, are least able to find the funds to pay their fees.

A recent study commissioned by the Open University and conducted by polling company MORI found that 25 per cent of those considering part-time studies in Scotland were being put off by fees; and a much larger 73 per cent of those currently unemployed felt that fees were a major obstacle for them.

This anomaly needs to be addressed. If there are to be no tuition fees for undergraduates – or indeed even if there are to be fees – there is a powerful argument for proper support for part-timers. Giving this support is socially just, but in addition will help economic recovery and combat unemployment. The present position makes no sense.

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7 Comments on “Supporting part-time students”

  1. Eugene Gath Says:

    Fredinand, you should have studied mathematics. By B.Sc, we mostly get to 1900!

      • Jacco Says:

        I suppose that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not far off. The ability for abstract thought in students coming through A levels or the LC (due to rote learning would be my guess) is usually so poor that there’s no way that an UG program in maths gets anywhere near the research frontier.

  2. Vincent Says:

    There is one flaw though. Mature students, as well as some of them do, have that issue of while passing do so at the lower end of the scale. This is compounded after a few years where post degree courses have a 2:1 requirement across the board.
    There is a notion in academia that issues deriving from mature entry fall off with the primary degree. However all it tends to do is compound the problems, except now there is a useless degree in the mix rather than a useless leaving cert. But now you have all those that have lower degrees to add to the mix.
    There needs to be a wide open top up course.

  3. Does this mean that as we shelve the “Hunt report”, we will keep his recommendation that part-time be supported financially in the same way as full-time?

    • Your guess is as good as mine, Brian. In fact, I’m not sure Hunt is dead, but all the bits of to-be-implemented Hunt that I hear about haven’t included the part-time issue. Time for some pressure!

  4. jfryar Says:

    I think the issue is much broader than which reports are implimented and whether students have to pay fees. If someone wants to ‘re-skill’ is it always necessary for them to complete an entire degree course rather than specific modules? Would it not be possible for students to chose say, anatomy and physiology modules in TCD, physics modules in say UCD, and nursing modules in DCU to cobble together enough ‘credits’ to have a tailored degree in medical physics?

    I just believe that we always look at too small a picture when considering what the future of education might look like.

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