Colleges Need to Ensure Equal Access to All Services and Supports for Part Time Students
There are now over 43,000 students studying part time in Irish higher education institutions, across the public and private sector, according to a new report released by the Higher Education Authority (HEA). These figures represent 17% of all undergraduate and 39% of all postgraduate students in the State. The report has also found that 92% of part time learners are mature students (23 years of age or older). Institutes of Technology and private colleges have a much higher proportion of part time and flexible learners than the universities.
The Higher Education Authority wants to see that part time students will have the same level of access to all academic and other services and supports as full time students and that moves are made to remove distinctions between the categories such that the only question in future for students will be ‘how many credits are you taking?’ . The HEA’s model of funding higher education institutions will also evolve to further support part time/flexible learning.
The HEA is making a number of recommendations, including
That colleges review all policies and systems to ensure that all students have equal access to the highest quality of teaching and learning, services and pastoral supports.
An accessible, co-ordinated application system for all students for all higher education programmes.
Improved guidance for those looking at returning to education.
Targeted financial support for underrepresented groups of students who wish to participate in higher education on a part time/flexible basis.
Part time students generally must pay fees and other costs associated with their education and they are not eligible to apply for higher education grants nor to apply to the Student Assistance Fund in colleges. While tax relief is available at the standard rate of 20%, the first €1,000 of any such claim is disregarded.
Tom Boland, Chief Executive of the HEA, said,
“If we truly believe in lifelong learning, the higher education system must adapt to ensure that adults can balance work and care commitments with opportunities to study, learn and research. Part time students have not to date received the same level of services from colleges as their full time colleagues and all of us need to work to address that.”