Keiron Rees's WonkHE article 'Delivering Diamond and the rise in part time students in Wales' (26/11/18) proudly - and justifiably so - highlights how the implementation of the basic principles of the 2016 Diamond report have resulted in 'staggering' increases in the numbers of Welsh-domiciled part-time applicants for PT study.
"Early in-year data from the Student Loans Company shows that the number of Welsh-domiciled part-time applicants for student support is 50% higher this year than at the same time last year, increasing from 2,600 to 3,900 applicants. this is higher than at any time for the past five years... And while applications for support do not necessarily equal an increase in overall student numbers, these figures line up with what we are hearing about part-time and postgraduate recruitment this year, a picture that will become clearer in the coming months.' (Reference)
Those basic principles revolve, predictably, around finance. The Diamond report includes recommendations such as:
- Part-time undergraduate students receive support that secures a broader equivalence of support across the two modes of study [PT and FT]
- The focus of undergraduate support for those studying on a full-time basis therefore moves from the Tuition Fee Grant towards improved maintenance support arrangements for all full-time and part-time undergraduate students, with the highest level of grant support covering the full cost of maintenance for those who are most in need, with income contingent loans to cover tuition fees.
This 'holistic funding system' is underpinned by a range of other recommendations which specifically cater for the financial needs and particular circumstances of PT learners. See the report for more details.
Rees acknowledges that it is early days to claim significant long-term success in addressing the challenges faced by part-time learners. However, where Wales seems to be taking an important, even revolutionary, step is in its bringing together the two modes of delivery. Addressing the financial discrepancies is an excellent first step. These are likely, in turn, to foster equally important dimensions of the PT learners' experience: a sense that their study is equally valid and equally valued as that of their FT counterparts; it should incentivise higher education providers to monitor the array of practical issues PT learners typically struggle with (lack of facilities, poor face to face admin support, few out of normal working hours services, and so on); and more.
Yet from a lifelong learning perspective, this is only the first (albeit vital) step. Part-time and full-time learners have always sat uncomfortably alongside each other in institutional life. The dominance of the full-time model, exacerbated by the ease of this model for institutions who can reduce costs by have many students all doing the same thing at the same time, necessarily results in the subserviences of the PT model and its students. For Wales, and indeed all four UK nations, genuinely to have parity between the two modes of delivery, the status quo must change to part-time. Only when part-time, flexible delivery becomes the dominant mode of delivery for institutions will all learners genuinely flourish. Some might choose to study at an intensity of 50%, others more (the equivalent of FT), or less. They might vary this intensity from year to year, depending on their circumstnaces. This cannot happen tomorrow, nor even within the short span of two or three years that Wales has required in order to introduce its new financial regime. It requires a huge redevelopment of administrative structure, of pedagogical approaches, of lecturers' contracts, support systems and so much more. Some might question the coherence and integrity of academic courses provided in such a way. Yet this is the logical development of an HE system that genuinely wants to offer the best and most appropriate learning opportunities for as wide a range of learners as possible.
Response on Wonkhe’s article by Kieron Rees
Thank you for the opportunity to look at how Wales has begun to address the challenges faced by part-time learners, and the success you have experienced. As an association concerned with the ongoing flourishing of part-time and lifelong learners, UALL notes some of the key dimensions of your success. With reference to your article as well as to the Report on which it is based, these seem to be:
- The deliberate and conscious funding alignment of part-time and full-time students
- The recognition of the key role that funding PT student maintenance plays in recruiting and retaining these learners
- The abolishment of the contentious ELQ regulation
Each of these is a key player in the fortunes of PT learners, and UALL will follow with interest the impact of these developments as they are consolidated over the coming years.