Hope through FACE – The Open University perspective
Dr John Butcher – Wendy Fowle – Open University
The FACE conference was excellent this year. I was pleased to attend some assured presentations from international colleagues, and a good mix of academic and practitioner-based presentations from a range of UK higher education (HE) providers. Although my interest is in part-time HE, I particularly enjoyed learning about Greenwich School of Management, offering HE to an essentially mature Black, Minority and Ethnic (BME) cohort (albeit full-time only). In addition, the University of Leeds focused on the impact of financial support on part-time learners and their presentation provided a good opportunity for colleagues to share their institution’s own approaches to financial support.
It was obvious from some of the sessions I attended and indeed presented at, that provision for part-time mature students is on some institutions’ widening participation (WP) agendas although I remain convinced there is more to do in this area. I fear until the government incentivises Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to deliver attractive part-time undergraduate programmes, the research effort will concentrate elsewhere. However there was hope at FACE. Some presentations I attended described approaches which would benefit part-time mature students, for example in relation to employability, with HEIs acting as facilitators to make links between local employers and local graduate needs. Mature part-time graduates are often motivated by changing careers, but can be constrained geographically due to existing personal commitments.
To reiterate a point made by the Open University’s VC Peter Horrocks in his keynote speech: “at a time of political disruption across the UK it is imperative to keep the demands around the need for better part-time provision at the fore of policy discussion”. The conference implicitly recognised the link between WP and the need for flexible routes into HE: it remains our job to tease out those aspects that particularly meet the needs of part-time mature students. Part-time is unlikely to be a ‘choice’ for mature students, it’s the only way most can access HE.