22 SES 12 B, Non-traditional Students
Part-time flexible learning has been neglected by researchers and marginalised by policy makers (Schuller et al 1999). In particular there is a lack of empirical research examining part-time flexible learning in HE. Flannery McGarr (2014) argued that part-time flexible learning has been inadequately conceptualised and poorly defined. Similarly,Callender noted the lack of definition within the UK maintaining that ‘part-time students are those that do not fit into the definition of a full-time student (2011:470)’. Whereas Jamieson et al, concluded that ‘in practice it is clear that in most countries many students’ combine their studies with ‘other commitments’ including work ‘and are de facto studying’ part-time (Jamieson et al, 2009:245).
In Ireland HE has expanded with greater numbers of students participating at undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Changes in public policy and institutional practices resulted in greater diversity, students’ access HE through a range of routes also there are increased numbers of minority cohorts within HE programmes. Coinciding with the recent banking crisis there was a renewed interest from policy makers in part-time flexible learning. Whilst reports indicated a shift in public policy there was no corresponding change to funding, part-time students continued to be excluded from government grants and free fees afforded to full-time equivalents. Issues of equity and inclusion permeate the discourse around part-time flexible learning in Irish HE (Fleming et al 2017, Darmody and Fleming 2009).
Key questions underpinning the research included;
- Why has part-time flexible learning increased in importance in policy terms in recent times?
- What defined part-time relative to newer terms such as; flexible learning, what was the motivation for these developments?
- To what extent has policy been informed by concepts of lifelong learning and inclusion?
- What factors encourage HEI’s to grow part-time and what factors inhibit growth?
Proposed changes and reforms within Irish HE have given rise to unhealthy tensions and some debate about the role of the University and HEI’s in general (Clancy 2015). The orientation of public policy is toward greater efficiency and accountability also the emergence ‘of systematic state intervention’ within HE has become a cause for concern (Walsh 2014:52). Fleming (2011) argued that there is evidence of growing neo-liberal tendencies across HE, Walsh (2014) draws attention to education policy that is utilitarian in focus . Clancy (2015) recognises the constraints imposed on a system that continued to expand as resources reduced and the implications for quality learning experiences. Similarly, Hazelkorn identified ‘maintaining quality at the same time as declining investment and rising student demand’ as central to current HE policy (2014:1346).
There is little doubt that as Irish HE has expanded there are significant gains to be celebrated in particular achieving greater diversity and participation across HEI’s (HEA 2015). Nevertheless little is known about part-time students, their experience as learners, what motivates them to enrol, why they persist, how they manage study while juggling responsibilities, how they integrate and cope within a HE system that caters primarily to full-time students (Darmody and Fleming 2009, Clancy 2015, HEA 2012). Similarly there is a lack of research into lecturers’ pedagogical approaches to teaching and supporting part-time flexible students in HE (Merrill 2001).
Despite reform and expansion of HE, nonetheless over a twenty year period during a time of prosperity and austerity, with different Ministers for Education, figures show that the number of part-time flexible HE students had not grown ((Byrne and Murray 2017). This case study explored part-time flexible learning in Irish HE from the perspective of policy makers, lecturers and students. Drawing on a range of stakeholder experiences, an explanation as to why the number of part-time flexible students remained static is outlined.
Case study methods were employed to map part-time flexible learning, identify key issues, address questions and construct explanations from analysis of the data. A number of in-depth interviews (n=9) were undertaken with key actors who had authored reports, policy papers, as well as stakeholders who influenced policy. A non-probability sampling approach was employed. The selection of interview participants was purposive and strategic, each individual was knowledgeable, experienced and had an input into the processes and strategies pertaining to policy formation. The sample included nine individuals who were directly involved in; authoring reports, decision making, influencing, formulating and or implementing relevant policies for part-time flexible learning and access initiatives. Interviewees included former and current employees within government departments funding bodies such as the; DES, HEA, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as well as individuals employed by organisations that lobby, advocate, and represent stakeholders; such as employers and teacher unions. Interviews were semi-structured with questions and prompts used as guides. Each interview was guided by questions based on examination of; the research literature, as well as policy reports and strategic initiatives in; lifelong learning, adult education, widening access participation, part-time flexible learning, funding and reform of HE (DES, 1998, 2011, 2016, HEA, 2009, 2012). Explanation building was at the heart of the data analysis process. Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim. Software tools (MAXQ) were used as an aid to generating themes and identifying relationships within the data. Inductive methods alongside open and axial coding were employed. The themes arising from analysis of the interview data related to questions framing the interviews. The following five themes were established; (1) Status, referred to the position of part-time flexible learning within HE policy and HEI practice, past and present. (2) Purpose, focused on the function of part-time, what need it addressed in HE and society, and examining what was driving policy. (3) Funding relates to the mechanisms of HE funding and the implications for part-time. The complexity of reform of HE funding and the difficulty in implementing policy changes around this were evident. (4) Accountability, addresses the requirement to establish how public resources were spent and the types of systems and indicators used to measure objectives and provide transparency. (5) Policy and Implementation; recognises the strategies and initiatives used to operationalise reports and attempts to reform or change public policy.
Part-time HE has been under-researched and underfunded.(Byrne Murray 2017) Drawing on in-depth interviews with policy makers the research showed that; part-time was under-valued, it lacked status and was not integrated within policy. In Ireland part-time students continue to be excluded from free fees and grants. Further there is a lack of data on retention and progression amongst part-time students’ within HE. Tinto’s theory of integration offered a lens to examine integration and persistence however the limits of the integrationist model became evident when applied to part-time flexible HE (Tinto, 1993). Alternatively theories of inclusion provided a framework for an evolving HE system (Skillbeck and Connell 2000). Through analysis and interpretation of interview data it was possible to construct an explanation as to why Irish HE has failed to grow participation amongst part-time flexible students. Findings emerging from policy interviews indicated that (1) There was a lack of a holistic or systematic approach to part-time flexible policy and this impacted on provision (2) Funding was key to defining growth and future development of part-time flexible learning (3) The HE system needs to change, to adapt, if it is to be inclusive of part-time flexible learners. Findings indicated that barriers to growth and increased participation in part-time flexible learning were structural and systemic.
Byrne, D. Murray C. (2017) An Independent Review to identify the Supports and Barriers for Lone Parents in Accessing Higher Education and to Examine Measures to Increase Participation, Maynooth University, DES, Callender, C. (2011) Widening participation, Social justice and Injustice: part-time students in higher education in England, Internal Journal of Lifelong Education, 30:4, 469-487, Clancy, P. (2015) Irish Higher Education A comparative perspective, Institute of Public Administration, Dublin, Darmody, M., Fleming, B. (2009) The Balancing Act, Irish part-time undergraduate students in higher education, Irish Educational Studies, 28:1, 67-83 DES (1998) Adult Education in an era of Lifelong Learning, Dublin DES, (2011) National Strategy for higher Education to 2030, Report of the Strategy Group, government publications, Dublin, DES; (2016) Investing in a national ambition, A strategy for funding higher education, DES, Dublin, Flannery, M., McGarr, O.(2014) Flexibility in higher education: an Irish Perspective, Irish Education Studies, 33(4), 419-434, Fleming, T., Loxley, A., Finnegan, F., (2017) Access and Participation in Irish Higher Education, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan Fleming, T.(2011) Models of Lifelong learning: an overview, In London, M.(ed) The Oxford Handbook on Lifelong learning, OUP, New York, pp.29-39, Hazelkorn, E. (2014) Rebooting Irish higher education: policy challenges for challenging times, Studies in Higher Education, 39:8, 1343-1354, HEA (2008) National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2008-2013, HEA, Dublin, HEA (2010) A Study of Progression in Irish Higher Education, HEA, Dublin HEA,(2012) Part-time and Flexible higher education in Ireland, policy, practice and recommendations for the future, HEA, Dublin, Jamieson, A., Sabates, R., Woodley, A., Feinstein, L.,(2009) The Benefits of higher education study for part-time students, Studies in Higher Education, 34:3, 245-262, Walsh, J. A contemporary history of Irish Higher Education in Loxley, A. Seery, A. & Walsh, J. (eds) (2014) Higher Education in Ireland: Practices, policies and possibilities, Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan, pp.33-54, Merrill, B. (2001) Learning and Teaching In Universities: Perspectives from adult learners and lecturers, Teaching in higher education, 6:1, 5-17, Schuller, T., Raffe, D., Morgan-Klein, B, Clark, I., (1999) Part-time Higher Education, Policy Practice and Experience, Jessica Kingsley, London, Skilbeck, M. (2001) The University Challenged, A review of International Trends and Issues with particular reference to Ireland, HEA, Dublin, Skillbeck, M., Connell H.,(2000) Access and Equity in Higher Education, An International Perspective on issues and strategies, HEA, Dublin, Tinto, V.(1993) Leaving College, rethinking the causes and cures of Student attrition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
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