Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Report back on conference "A new deal for part-time and distance students" 12 Oct 2011

The UG-Flex project was represented at the recent conference looking at part-time, distance and flexible study in Higher Education by Annette Devine (Office of Student Affairs) and Emma Williams, (Planning and Statistics).

Speakers included Claire Callender and Tricia King (Birkbeck),  Ed Leser (Chief Exec. Student Loans Company), Kate Butland & Peter Mulligan (UCAS) and Bill Jones (Universities Association for Lifelong Learning)

A summary of the main discussion and issues follows below. Reading them it is interesting to note that the strategic and infrastructure issues raised are ones that the UG-Flex project at Greenwich has been grappling with. I think it is worth emphasizing that by tackling the core organisational functions and infrastructure implications of flexible learning, Greenwich is 2+ years further down the road towards changing its institutional mindset.
  • The public value of HE (social mobility and economic benefits) and individual benefit are recognised;
  • Growing importance of part-time study – demographic downturn in younger HE entrants, up-skilling/re-skilling of workforce in current economic climate, financial austerity;
  • Part-time students will have access to non means tested loan up to £6,750  and with access to loans the expectation (by Government) is that more students will opt for part-time, distance learning, work-based learning;
  • Expectation of increased employer input into HE courses;
  • Part-time learning are no longer obscured in policy statements;
  • Flexibility and responsiveness – students should be able to study where, when and how it suits them;
  • Student experience – part-time students are not just full-time students doing it slower;
  • New providers emerging (FE and private) and cheaper modes of delivery (online);
  • Personalised learning needs to be addressed: APL/APEL, accelerated learning, unitisation, credit transfer
Issues

  • Uncharted territory – no-one can predict student behaviour: It is difficult to predict part time & distance learner behaviour for 2012 entry. It is noted  that part time student numbers have been reducing over last 10 years or so. At Birkbeck any shift in this trend will not be known until late in the planning cycle as many apply late as direct entrants.
  • Diverse profile of part-time students
  • No level playing field with full time students in terms of funding:
  • A cap of £6,750 imposed on part time students for fees loan regardless of intensity of study
  • Part time students only qualify for fees loans if studying more than 25% FTE
  • Grants will be removed for part time students (exception for students with disabilities)
  • Only a third of part-time students will be able to access loans for fees: those with Level 4 qualifications will not be able to access tuition fee loans.
  • Part time students will have to start to pay back their loan 3 ½ years after the start of their course regardless of completion status or income levels.
  • Full time and part time study are different and the course structure/content for part-time study needs to be individualised. 
  • There are concerns that fees will be set pro-rata, where in the past they may have been discounted.
  • Will part-time students take the risk when perception is one of debt?
  • Employer reluctance in current economic climate to fund re-skilling through HE
  • Flexible learning has to be an integral aspect of institutional strategic change and aligned to admissions, learning and teaching and e learning strategies and associated staff development
  • Addressing core organisational function and infrastructure implications inc support services, library and IT for part time students.
Other points

  • Part-time students will be able to apply to the Student Loans Company (SLC) through same process as full-timers – currently only deal with 16-20k per year;
  • SLC have no idea what the uptake will be but expect it within the range 16,700-150,00 and demand profile expected to be different from full-time;
  • UCAS currently undertaking major admissions process review to provide a flexible sustainable approach to all modes of study. Report expected in March 2012;
  • According to UCAS Potential part-time students want information on the following:
    • fees
    • how to apply
    • loans and repayment
    • course duration
    • method of course delivery (e.g. evening/weekend etc.)
    • contact hours
Presentation slides from conference speakers are available on request from c.eustance@gre.ac.uk

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