the reconstruction of part-time higher education

green front cover of OU report Fixing the broken market

There a new report out

Fixing the Broken Market in Part-Time Study

From the OU

I quote

Lord Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science at the time of the reforms, has said that the collapse in part-time student numbers is ‘one of my biggest regrets about my time as Minister’

Oh come on!

Was anyone in his circle of family and friends affected? I doubt it.

Part-time education matters. Anyone could have predicted what the changes in student fees would do.

And it did.

The market isn’t just broken its crushed.  For all the rhetoric about widening access and participation,  it’s never been harder to get into university as a part-time student.

image of herbs being crushed in a bowl

I came into higher education at the turn of the century.  On the back of the Dearing report (1997) I worked on widening participation projects. The ones where you go into schools and talk to pupils about aspirations, bring them onto campus for mini-university experiences, play spot the lecturer (yes, honest, jeans and trainers, the suit is in ICT) It was all about breaking down the social and cultural barriers which make people believe a higher education is not for them.

The years before I’d worked in adult and community education, teaching computer skills, supporting adults who’d been out of formal education for some time or never had the opportunity to study, helping them get back into employment after a career break or disability. I’d started my first degree after  the family were all at school. I was widening participation in action. Ten years before the Dearing Report it was already happening – albeit without the internet.

image showinf two cartoon people on either side of a chasm

I’ve been lucky.

Both my MA’s were part time and six years  ago I signed up for a part time degree in Creative Writing at the University of Hull. It was the thought of the new fees wot did it. I got in just before the changes. Still had to pay – over 6 years it worked out as @£1000 a year – but for me it was money well. There were opportunities to be creative, meet new people, cover a wide range of genre. Hard work but worth it. The subsequent fee increases led to an inevitable drop in numbers and the part-time degree has now closed. Over half of my class wanted to take the MA in Creative Writing. They had the talent but simply couldn’t afford it.

For most it was their first experience of HE. I don’t think many would disagree that in one way or another the past 6 years were transformative. Not only in terms of knowledge and experience but in the acquisition of a  variety of skills and overall confidence in both the subject and as individuals. They were so proud to graduate and I was proud to have been part of such an talented and energetic group. Isn’t this what life is about? Learning there’s more to the world than exists in your little corner?

pink and green direction arrows

Fixing the Broken Market says some right things:

For prospective students, greater flexibility in degree provision will help people access the life-changing opportunities that a university education can provide…allowing people additional routes to higher skills – such as through flexible ‘learn-while-you-earn’ higher education provision or apprenticeships – will be vital to allow people to upskill and retrain whilst in work.

Apprenticeships.

Mmmm……

I’m currently involved in supporting a Degree Apprenticeship Programme. Intended to be partnerships between employers, universities, and professional bodies, students will have the opportunity to study (UG and PG) while working. It’s a revival of part-time study through work based learning.

book, phone and keyboard

At Lincoln I supported a variety of Work Based Learning programmes which focused on the needs of local employers. For me, WBL was widening participation in action. It was where the affordances of education technology came into their own and inclusive practice was essential in rural areas with poor broadband connections. I built transition support and helped amend the validation process. By the time a  WBL award got to validation, the differences and challenges had already been addressed, the first module developed and was demonstrated. For years I did the best I could to support staff teaching on these programmes. What I couldn’t control then, and still struggle with today, is time.

cartoon person pushing a brown cog wheel representing the gears of digital shifts

I know from experience how studying part-time while working full-time is tough.

My PhD is on a burner so far back I can’t see it.

Without support from your employer, part time study risks being an unachievable goal. The new Degree Apprenticeships have to acknowledge the reality of the full time work/part time study dichotomy.

It’s good to see Fixing the Broken Market in Part Time Study has bought up the issues, but the rationale worries me. Times have changed and the purpose of higher education is changing too. This resurgence of attention is also a reconstruction.  Part-time is repackaged as shorter, flexible modes of study. ‘Learning and Earning’ the new catch phrase. Improving the skills of the working-age population the driver.  A  meritocratic society the vision. Technology the discipline focus. This isn’t about the Arts or Humanities which, if I’m reading it right, are presented  low-value learning. It’s STEM STEM STEM all the way home.

keyboard with a sign saying Under Construction

Parts of the report make me want to cry – not in a good way. Page 9 addresses the lessons learned following the Browne Report and show how far removed the government was (still is) from reality. Read it yourself and see. Here are some tasters

It was thought that part-time students would respond to increases in deferred fees in the same way as full-time students…. it [was] thought that more part-time students would be entitled to and take-up tuition fee loans than actually did…  we would not expect a negative impact on the demand for part-time study… The experience of the last few years shows that this assumption, that all of us made, was catastrophically wrong

No shit Sherlock!

silhouette of raised arms

Apart from higher education becoming purely an employability incentive there are some lights at the end of this long dark tunnel. ‘Lessons from recent history include part-time students and full-time students need to be thought about differently by policymakers.‘ Yep, they certainly do. And by the universities and by all staff who teach and support learning but I would challenge statements like ‘Less time out of work is required for these flexible study modes‘ because this isn’t true. 20 credits is still 200 hours of learning no matter how you present it.

timer laid on its side in the sand

However the biggest single hurdle to achieving authentic and meaningful part- time study is time. Without an institution and employer wide shift in culture towards genuine CPD, part-time study will continue be a source of stress rather than reward.

I know…

I’m stressed…the Phd sleeps quietly in my absence….while I count down the days to Christmas for all the wrong reasons.

christmas baubles and tree

all images from pixabay.com

One thought on “the reconstruction of part-time higher education

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