Last year, I was studying part-time for my Masters while working three part-time jobs to fund my studies. The year was tough, and I ran for election because I wanted to make changes that would make life easier for part-time students.
This year I have run a research project on the experiences of part-time students. Among other things, I have learnt that part-time students can not simply be treated as full-time students who study half of the time. We live complex lives, have often sacrificed a lot to be students and consequently have distinct needs. If treated the same as full-time students, we receive inadequate support and report low student satisfaction.
Part-time students lead extremely varied lives. Of the 236 part-time students who took part in my research:
30% were in full-time work (35+ hours) alongside their studies
34% had caring responsibilities
58% were over the age of 30
Some were working 60+ hours per week
Part-time study is socially important. It allows those who are unable to study full-time to partake in higher education and lets the workforce reskill or upskill without ceasing current employment.
Unfortunately, since the tuition fee hikes in 2011, the UK has seen a massive decline in part-time student numbers that has prompted widespread concern within the Higher Education sector.
The report on my research highlights a number of ways that the University could better support part-time students and make our time at Bristol more enjoyable. Recommendations include ensuring that University support is communicated to students on arrival, enhancing students’ ability to fit their studies around other aspects of their life and increasing staff awareness around the part-time students’ experience.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, work/life balance and financial concerns featured heavily when examining the barriers that students have faced during their studies. 27% of students reported reducing the number of hours that they study as a result of financial pressures. We also found that some students were simply slipping through the cracks... being left off mailing lists and getting last pick of units.
I have presented the paper to various University committees over the past couple of weeks, and despite my nerves (!) it went down well. I look forward to seeing some concrete action so that part-time students no longer feel forgotten!