Posted on Friday, 12 February 2016 at 5pm
by Jenni Whitfield. See more of my posts here.
I attended the UALL (Universities Association for Lifelong Learning) conference earlier this month at the St George’s Centre in Leeds. With the title of Part-time and mature students in higher education: exploring and enhancing the student experience it was very relevant to the work we do so I was looking forward to learning from and meeting like-minded people. I was pleasantly surprised with the variety of institutions that were represented, from Sunderland to London.
After being welcomed by the LLC Director Tony Ellis, we heard from the first of two keynote speakers. Jackie Dunne, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton, spoke about the crisis in part-time higher education and the ways Wolverhampton are working as an ‘anchor’ for local social and economic development to improve recruitment and support for part-time and mature students. This included engaging with schools and colleges and the development of a building that has been derelict for 30 years into a Construction University Technical College.
The second speaker was Kate Thomas, Research Fellow and Project Manager for the Athena SWAN programme at the University of Birmingham. Kate spoke about the research she has done with part-time students about their sense of belonging in the higher education environment. Kate has looked at areas from four institutions and considered how they are occupied and by whom. A ‘mapping belonging’ exercise has been conducted with groups of students to identify spaces they felt comfortable, yielding several interesting findings.
The group then split into three different workshops. The session I attended on the ‘Wellbeing of students’ was led by Pauline McManus from the University of Warwick and the group had an interesting discussion about online resources for students at our institutions, the importance of staff wellbeing to aid student wellbeing and the Five steps to mental wellbeing proposed by the NHS.
After an enjoyable lunch meeting delegates from other institutions we were split into groups for the afternoon session. Six stations were set up and each group spent 20 minutes discussing each topic. These included pre-arrival, on-arrival and learning and teaching support, non-academic support, student life and careers and employability. It was an active way of hearing what other institutions do in each of these areas and I felt that everyone in my group took away new ideas.
Paul Devlin finished the day off with an inverted plenary session that involved a group consensus workshop and his famous ‘Sticky wall’. In our groups we were asked to answer the question How do we enhance the student experience of part-time and mature students? with no more than five answers. The answers were then collated and the following ‘themes’ identified:
- Institutional ‘buy-in’
- Staff development
- Consistent support
- Building communities
- Responsiveness and flexibility
It was a really enjoyable day and I came away with a lot of new ideas to put into practice here at the LLC.