20 May 2011

Seminar on Widening Participation Through Part-Time Provision

UALL’s Widening Participation and Social Inclusion Network has a programme of regular events, which offers a wide range of perspectives on themes of widening participation and social inclusion. This event focussed on part-time study and widening participation, and featured Claire Callender, whose work around and for part-time study and part-time students is well-known; and Sarah Speight, who spoke about her experience of leading concurrently both full-time and part-time undergraduate study programmes.

Terry Di Paolo

The top things I took away

It’s not all about undergraduates – it was really refreshing to hear from part-time students about their experiences via a student panel made up of University of London students. Three of the four students on the panel were postgraduate students and along with attendees whose interests lie in the PG experience it was good to think about issues associated with this level of study when PG Study has been left out of the Browne review.

The only known is an unknown

I really enjoy presentations by Claire Callender, she has this talent for getting the mix of statistical evidence and social analysis just right and I always come away cogitating over some point or comment she’ll make (I know, I know that sounds like I’m hoping Claire will read this and poke me on Facebook but it’s true). With plenty of notes taken on the proportions of students eligible for funding and mulling the way “part-time” was increasingly going to become a mechanistic measure of engagement rather than a mode of learning I was pretty much pleased as Claire wrapped up. However, the thing I kept coming back to over the weekend was a point Claire made right at the end of her session. Claire left us with the only known about part-time students – an unknown – we don’t know the impact of future changes on those ineligible or eligible for loans – basically there is little certainty about the future of the part-time market. Intuitively, I knew that – but until that moment I hadn’t actually thought about how in just over a year the part-time student body could be utterly different to what it is now (not just here at the OU but across the UK).

Why don’t we talk about disciplines or subject? -. Sarah Speight from Nottingham Uni talked about the way in which a part-time humanities curriculum had changed in response to ELQ and was increasingly changing to accommodate full-time or varying forms of part-time study. I think Sarah presentation highlighted for me a concern I’ve had from attending a number of seminars recently about part-time students. The subject/discipline they study is incidental, it’s ignored or merely a footnote  – yet discipline is important and more so given the post-Browne position on the Arts and Social Sciences. Interestingly, it was only when I walking back to the station after the seminar when I’d been thinking about this that I noticed a building I’d walked past earlier was covered in “arts against the cuts” posters.

Burning question following the seminar

(The one thing I wish I’d asked…great when you’re coming home on the train mulling things over…)

It’s a given we don’t know what’s going to happen to part-time student numbers – but we still seem to be talking about a student staying at a single institution until they complete their studies. How does mobility (or institutional loyalty) feature in the debate on the future of part-time students?

John Rose-Adams

The top things I took away

OK, the first thing I should say is that I turned up late. Not late enough that I missed any of the presentations, but late enough that I missed the lunch. I guess that makes me only a bit rubbish. As I slid sheepishly and hungry into the lecture theatre – the last ‘student’ into the room…a familiar feeling – I absorbed one of many interesting slides presented by Claire Callender which was giving some context to the importance of widening participation in part-time study. Three contexts were suggested: (a) the predicted (but as it turned out material) demographic down-turn causing a larger proportion of older students; (b) the influence of Leitch and the background importance of Skills and the Knowledge Economy; and (c) the economic imperative. It was thankfully not Claire’s intention to demonstrate how these themes are related to the current (and developing) part-time higher education environment. Suffice to say that Claire quite rightly pointed out that HE policy to date, and the controversy surrounding current debates focus almost wholly on full-time modes. I think the first of my ‘top things’ from the afternoon then was the feeling that discussions about widening participation to part-time study can only at this stage be framed as introductory, or exploratory. There is, as Terry points out above, very little known about part-time students, both in terms of demand and supply, but also experience. This event could not have ever be a ‘ways forward’ session. This contingency was reflected in the group discussions which took place at the end of the day, where from the wide range of stakeholders present at the event (which, from a scan of the attendance list includes HEFCE, SPA, national programmes representatives and Aimhigher colleagues as well as HEI colleagues), burning issues identified included such diverse topics as the future of access course provision, the pressures to exploit full-time markets first and the role of the Further Education sector (and its often troubled relationship with the HE sector).

One other issue that stood out for me whilst digesting Claire’s statistics, was that there seemed one further obvious potential risk for the part-time HE sector which emerges from the following figures: one third of part-time students are funded partly or wholly by employers, these are employers are on the whole public sector organisations, and they favour support of those students who are exempt from loans (as they often already hold first degrees) and do not attract central funding (due to the ELQ decision). Investment in the education of professionals will arguably not be high on the list of many public sector organisations for many years to come and so this supply-line of students to HE will fall sharply and then grow back slowly.

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