Dr Kirsty Kiezebrink, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, tells us about the part time route for all MSc programmes offered in Applied Health Sciences in order to allow working students to complete their studies.

Problem

Many students are required to work during their studies at university in order to financially support themselves (and in some cases also support family members).  This makes it very difficult for some groups in society to attend higher education and in particular postgraduate education.  Historically, we had many students who were attempting to study full time, work part time and manage all the other aspects of their lives. In many case this was resulting in students suffering stress and anxiety, being unable to afford to eat properly and, in some cases, requiring previously independent adults to return to living in parental homes. 

Solution

Our solution was to look into creating a part time route through all MSc programmes offered in Applied Health Sciences. Initially, this was developed in a single program (MSc Human Nutrition) to work out what would be the issues that this would present, before running out across all programmes.  I identified two case studies to test the new programme: 1) a female student, first generation higher education, could not afford to give up work whilst attending education, 2) a male student with mental health needs and complex personal situation which required a degree of flexibility during studies (this student had previously started with us full time but had withdrawn from studies due to these issues).  Programme structure was adapted to create 4 x 15 credit courses in each semester and a 60 credit research project.  Students then took 50% of the taught course components in the first year (2 x 15 credit courses in each semester).  They had the summer off in the first year then returned in the 2nd year to complete the additional taught courses (2 x 15 credits) and the research project.

Evaluation

Both students successfully completed their studies in two years.

Comments from students

“My choice to study part-time was purely circumstantial, as I could not afford to stop working and take the full-time route. Had part-time not been an option, I would not have applied for the programme. For me, having the freedom to work and study was definitely the biggest advantage of studying part-time.”

“Another significant advantage was the opportunity to meet and work with a larger and wider variety of people – many of who I am still in contact with today. This was possible having studied over two years, which meant I was part of two different cohorts. My initial impression was that I would struggle to establish relationships, only being present half of the time. Surprisingly, this wasn’t the case, as there was plenty opportunity to mix with other students.”

“I am so grateful to UoA for working with me to find a way to make the master work for me, I had lots of troubles throughout my studies and many time thought I would not make it, but I have.  It made such difference being able to spread my studies over 2 years so I can take the time I needed to manage the work.”

There were aspects which did not work so well:

“the biggest disadvantage was that the research project was actually full-time, and I had to meet the same deadlines as everyone else. Due to the demands, I had to cut back on the hours I worked until I eventually stop working altogether in order to find the time to complete the project. Additionally, I had some personal commitments and health issues which exacerbated the situation and ended with me having to move back home with my parents for extra support. Overall, this resulted in me not being able to produce my best work, which was disappointing. Ideally, for a part-time student, the deadlines would be extended or project started earlier.”

Going forward, there are now three options for part time students. They can begin working on their research project in the summer of first year and then complete in the second year.  Alternatively, they can extend the project in the second year over twice the period of study. However, this means that, due to timings of exam boards and graduation, they will then not be eligible to graduate until the 3rd year. Option 3 is they extend the project in the second year and instead of attending the November graduation they would be eligible to apply for February graduation in absentia.

Impact

We have now implemented this part time route on all the programmes offered in IAHS, and have had an additional 17 students last year (out of a total of 88 students) who took the part time route.  Of these, 3 switched from full time to part time during studies due to changes in personal circumstances and, therefore, this route has had an impact on not only our recruitment but also our retention.  This change required some effort from course coordinators, programme coordinator and school administrators to enable it to work, and I believe it has been a hugely successful project in terms of widening opportunities for student to study with us who previously would not have bene able to.   We have also taken the learning form this to support our development of online programmes which are all offered on a part time route. This has enable a further 67 student last year to complete their postgraduate education with us whilst maintaining their other work, life commitments.