13 Aug 2007

New research reveals study benefits for part-time mature students

The Open University and Birkbeck, University of London have produced a joint report on the experiences of mature students who were studying for qualifications part-time.

Because 94% of students at Birkbeck and virtually all of The Open University’s students study this way, the study is an attempt to better understand the motivations and outcomes for students from this background.

Alan Woodley, Senior Research Fellow at The Open University and co-author of the report, said: "Although OU and Birkbeck students differ in terms of how, what and where they study, there is great similarity in their reasons for studying, such as personal development and wanting to gain a qualification; what they expected to gain from studying – improved skills, better opportunities and enhanced satisfaction in their current roles; and the benefits they had already gained from study a few months after graduation.

"This is a preliminary report and there will be a three-year follow-up study to see whether these benefits increase, decrease or change."

The report, The Social and Economic Benefits of Part-Time, Mature Study at Birkbeck College and The Open University, was written by Alan Woodley of the OU; Cathie Hammond and Anne Jamieson of Birkbeck College; Leon Feinstein and Tashweka M.Anderson of the Institute of Education.

Summary of Findings

The report is a summary of the experiences of part-time mature students who studied with The Open University and Birkbeck, University of London.

In 2004/05 43% of higher education students in the UK studied part-time and 56% were “mature students”.

The research has been undertaken because, despite part-time study being a large part of the HE sector, there is little knowledge about the impacts of qualifications and experiences on people who study later in life. (22% of all part-time students study with the OU and 2% at Birkbeck. Both institutions have a vast majority of students studying part-time.)

The survey was conducted among 3,072 people who had gained a qualification from the OU or Birkbeck. The answers revealed their reasons for study, the costs and benefits of participation and the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the graduates.

Motivations for Study

Personal development and interest in the subject are the most popular reasons for study, closely followed by getting a recognised qualification. Wanting to improve their current job or change to a better job was a reason for between one and two-thirds of cases. Postgraduates in particular highlighted improving their current job as a particular reason.

47% of OU students who responded rated enjoyment and employment progression as their main reasons for study.

Benefits of Learning Skills

70% of respondents noted improvement in skills such as time management, writing, research, leadership and team work.

Occupational Benefits

At the time of the survey, shortly after graduation for all respondents, most appeared to be in the same job or employment area as they where when they began studying.

Over half felt that their career opportunities had improved, and that they expected future benefits including a higher income.

Personal and Educational Benefits

Respondents said they had improved self-confidence, happiness and personal development. Being able to help children with their education was also mentioned by many respondents.

70% said they now enjoyed learning more as a result of their studies and 60% planned to do further studying.

The study’s findings have highlighted a wide range of benefits obtained from studying amongst both sets of graduates. There is strong evidence that both institutions provide courses that meet the diverse needs of mature part-time students and a three-year follow-up study is already underway exploring the longer term outcomes of study.

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