Non-traditional education: part-time learning

What is part-time learning?

Part-Time Adult Learner also Part-Time Learner (PTL) refers to a subset of non-traditional learner who pursues higher education, typically after reaching physical maturity, while living off-campus and possessing responsibilities related to family and/or employment. Many are from a minority or disadvantaged group (disability, immigrant status, etc.).

PTLs have access to numerous programs and fields of study to pursue. They can be enrolled in certificate, diploma, undergraduate (including after-degree) or graduate degrees, in credit or non-degree credit courses, all in a plethora of fields. The multiplicity of characteristics reflected by PTLs makes this segment of the student population challenging to study. Caution must be practiced when defining PTLs, since there are many variations amongst them.

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Why part-time study has a great future?

Part-time study that leads to a full university degree is the key to getting round our graduate job problem.

There is an increasing groundswell growing right now in favor of part-time education. There are references in social media, in university magazines and wherever people gather to talk about students and their chances in life.

Earlier, studying came for free. One could do away without paying any money for their three years of graduation at a university and get a degree, completely free! That experience gave loads of grammar school types, to many students, the chance to get up and get on, to take on decent jobs that lead to decent careers. It isn’t so straightforward these days.

Student fees and the struggle today’s graduates have to find a job have changed the way education works. But I still believe in it, and I believe in it for far more people than are currently studying at university. So how are we to get round the problems that exist and maintain the thrill of deep, serious study that can transform anyone’s life? I think part-time study that leads to a full university degree holds the key to the answer. In fact, I know it does. In a research, I got to know that, numerous people have responded to say how wonderful it was to be able to study, while holding down a job, and then get a new qualification that upped their career chances and enriched their lives.

Some students come in their droves, rushing through the doors often after 5 o’clock in the afternoon once their day-job is over to hear lectures and seminars by some of the finest academics. You can tell these students care by the sense of bustle and enthusiasm in the air. There’s a reason for this: these are people who have thought hard about how to accommodate their study into their lives.

Many of them have partners, children, and mortgages. They know it won’t be simple, but with loans now available, they are discovering how rewarding it can be. The Open University too offers the same sort of part-time study towards a degree. I have friends among the elderly who are turning their retirement into a fulfilling use of time by taking an OU degree. Some 700,000 students currently study this way, one third of all higher education students.

There’s something timely about this campaign on the broader national scale. Student numbers are falling in the face of rising fees and loans. Young people who might once have seen university as their natural destination are rethinking what it means in hard money terms to spend three years without earning. The department for education and the department for business, innovation and skills both back the idea of part-time study.

It was Oscar Wilde who said “youth is wasted on the young.” The idea was taken up by his fellow Irishman GB Shaw who developed it into “education is wasted on the young”. Both were pithy quips concealing a nugget of truth. It is certainly the case that as we mature we learn to evaluate and judge our lives and the world around us in a more focused way. And it might be that we come to study and understand more profoundly than when we were young.

I’m not holding this to be an absolute. But it is surely true for many. That’s why part-time study has a great future.

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