With all the attention given this year to the serious drops in mature and part-time recruitment since 2010, it was a salutary experience to attend a conference devoted to the equally important issue of providing adequate support for students’ learning once they are recruited.
On 17 June, Glyndwr University hosted Looking Forward: Academic study skills in the 21st Century. This attracted 120 people from all over Britain and Ireland and included participants from as far afield as Russia. Although not focussed exclusively on mature and part-time study, such students were held very much in mind during the day.
I was struck, especially, by Sheila Kerfoot’s presentation. Sheila spoke with great passion and sensitivity about recent changes in learning support at Glyndwr. The short case studies that she provided illustrated the many different, often very subtle, interventions that are critical to students succeeding or failing. Her observations had resonance with those of others in the audience.
Although it was heartening to hear how students were being supported at Glyndwr, it was also noted in discussions that such support carries a cost, and was being reduced or was under threat of closure as a result of current economy drives in some HEIs. As there appears to be a trend in certain quarters towards encouraging adult learners towards low-fee provision, there is a risk that the fee will not be able to cover the range and intensity of support needed, from pre-entry guidance and aspiration- raising through to study skills and confidence boosting.
Recruitment is only part of the issue when it comes to PT and mature students. Retaining students through to the completion of the qualification - and enabling them to achieve well - are also essential parts of the big picture.
Dr Stella Cottrell
Director for Lifelong Learning
University of Leeds