Blog: September 2017

Thursday, 28 September 2017

How do we reverse the decline in mature student numbers?

NEC CEO Dr Ros Morpeth, NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner
Today's blog was written by NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury, pictured here (centre) with NEC Chief Executive Ros Morpeth (left) and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner (right)

How do we reverse the decline in mature student numbers?

There was a 24% drop in applications from mature students, defined as those over the age of 21, to study at undergraduate level in the 2017 UCAS cycle, according to a House of Commons’ briefing paper published in June on higher education student numbers. This is coupled with a 56% fall in part-time participation in higher education since 2010, a trend which disproportionately affects mature students (Higher Education Statistics Agency).

At NEC, we know there is no lack of ambition to study at higher level among adults beyond the standard undergraduate age of 18 to 21. Of the thousands of students from across the UK and beyond who enrol with us, 56% state that their motivation for studying is to go on to further and higher education. So what’s going wrong?

Reversing the decline

NEC’s is one of the voices campaigning to reverse the decline in the number of students studying part-time. For example, we are collaborating with the Open University to remove barriers for adults who want to continue studying, formalising our joint work with a recently renewed memorandum of understanding.

Figures published in September in the Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 show that at some universities, including the OU, Birkbeck, Wrexham Glyndŵr, London Metropolitan and Suffolk, mature students make up over half of the undergraduate intake. When compared with other higher education institutions, these universities also admit a high proportion of pupils from state schools.

Conversely, Loughborough, St Andrews, the London School of Economics, Imperial and Bath are amongst the universities taking in the lowest number of mature students. Bath, at the bottom of the list, takes in only 2.2%. As Les Ebdon, director of Fair Access to Higher Education states: “The downward trend in mature student numbers is now one of the most pressing issues in fair access to higher education...universities and colleges should look to do what they can to reverse the decline in mature student applications, as a matter of urgency.”

Why universities are missing out

As an organisation with over 50 years expertise in distance learning, NEC has countless student stories to tell that show just how much some universities are missing out on by failing to recruit mature applicants. Here are just two of them, both about students who took A levels with NEC this summer and who are now starting undergraduate courses in STEM subjects.

Robert studied A level Physics with the NEC and is studying for an engineering degree at the Open University. He is in the process of changing careers, from RAF aircraft technician to engineer in the aerospace industry.

Ellena studied A level biology, achieving a grade A. In her mid-twenties, she has exchanged working as a receptionist at a London law firm for life as a full-time pharmacy student at Nottingham University.

The case for life-long learning

Last week, NEC presented the case for lifelong learning to Daniel Zeichner MP, who represents the university city of Cambridge. We talked to him about the barriers that currently face adults learners. One is finance. Changes to student finance in the higher education reforms of 2011 that mean students have to borrow to fund their fees and maintenance rather than receiving a grant, and loans for maintenance support for part-time study have only become available through the Student Loans Company from academic year 2017/18. A second is ELQ [Equivalent and Lower Qualification] rules prevent graduates from receiving a student loan for a second degree if they have studied earlier in life at undergraduate level. A third is disability and long-term illness. A fourth is confidence and motivation.

What we also highlighted are the many opportunities to bring about positive change. For examples, the 2016 Adult Learner Survey, a Research Report commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Adult Education (APPG), found that 51% of respondents thought that hearing from others who had already completed a course at whatever level would attract others to enrol themselves.

An achievable goal

Along with other organisations encouraging adults to study beyond the age of compulsory education, at NEC we give learners a voice by publishing their stories in the media and on our social media channels. We reach out to adults through partnerships with organisations like the Prisoners’ Education Trust and the Workers Education Association.

We believe that universities have a responsibility to devise imaginative approaches to attracting mature students, and to devise them quickly. It is encouraging that the new Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has given his support to the creation of a national system of Learning Accounts, an approach to funding lifelong learning which we have always supported. What’s needed next is cross-party support in the form of a commitment to fund lifelong learning and to stand up for private candidates studying under their own team and without the support of a college or school.

The United Nations’ fourth sustainable development goal reads: ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’ The UK hasn’t achieved that goal yet but we are convinced that with continued campaigning by organisations giving adult learners a voice, commitment from across the political spectrum, and creative thinking by the higher education sector, it is achievable.

Rea Duxbury

Rea worked with NEC as a marketing intern this summer and has now returned to the University of Cambridge, where she is studying in her final year for a degree in human, social and political sciences. Look out for Rea’s next blog on her experience as an intern.
 

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Friday, 22 September 2017

Making the most of your tutor

Student communication with tutor online

Making the most of your tutor

Your tutor will be the person most closely involved with your work on your course, guiding your studies and giving you feedback. Your tutor will be an experienced teacher who knows your course and subject extremely well and who has helped many other students succeed. We’ll look at how you can make the most of the support your tutor can offer you.

What support can your tutor give you?

It is important to be clear about the kind of support your tutor can give you. Read the next case study for some ideas before you do the activity which follows.

Case study:
Kevin is 19. He talks about the support he received from his tutor when he was working on his A levels in Geography and Economics. ‘Working on my own has meant that I’ve really relied on my tutor for support and motivation. When I first enrolled for my A levels she contacted me by email to introduce herself and she sent me a few background details about herself, just so I could picture her better. She has actually written an economics textbook and I was a bit daunted at first about sending her anything. But she is really good at giving me helpful comments without talking down to me. She’s not afraid to point out something that I have got wrong but she does it in a constructive way, showing me how I can get it right next time. When I do something well, she always says so and also explains to me why she thought it was good so that I can try that again. It’s no good getting a good mark if you don’t understand why.’

Think about the kinds of support you might want from your tutor in the next activity.

What support do you think you might need from your tutor?

Tick the boxes in the list below to help you decide on the types of support you need.

1 ☐ Encourage you to get going
2 ☐ Help motivate you to keep going
3 ☐ Comment on your assignments and other coursework
4 ☐ Help you organise your time
5 ☐ Help you make the most of your strengths
6 ☐ Recommend useful books and guide your choice of reading
7 ☐ Recommend useful websites
8 ☐ Suggest ways in which you can improve your work
9 ☐ Advise you on how to tackle your next assignment
10 ☐ Provide references for university or college applications

Tutors can provide all these different kinds of support. Identifying the kinds of support you will need from your tutor will help you develop a more useful relationship with him or her, because you will know what you want and your tutor will be able to focus on your needs.

Don’t be afraid to ask your tutor for help. Tutors want to help you make the most of your studies, so feel free to:

  • keep notes while you are working so that you have a list of queries for them next time you contact them – you can ask them questions about any aspect of your study 
  • contact them if you don’t understand their feedback or comments on your work
  • contact them if you have a query, even if you haven’t completed an assignment or piece of coursework. However, you need to be realistic about how much support you can expect. Tutors are paid to support you but not 24 hours a day! If you are contacting them too much they will let you know politely. When you enrol for your course you will be told how much support you can expect from your tutor.
     

When you receive feedback or comments from your tutor, you can make the most of it by: 

  • reading back over your work alongside the comments 
  • reading the comments again before you start your next assignment or piece of coursework making notes of common mistakes in a separate notebook so that you can avoid repeating the same mistakes.
     

This is an excerpt from ‘How to Succeed as an independent learner’ a resource available free to all NEC students. As well as making the most of your tutor, it covers topics such as developing your memory, concentration, managing stress and using action plans.
 

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