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It's time to rethink how we 'go' to university

By Dr Philip Hallam, Vice-Chancellor of Arden University

Posted by Hannah Vickers | January 25, 2017 | Students

‘Widening access to university has been a British success story, but the benefits have not been distributed fairly.’ For me, this statement leapt out of the Social Mobility Commission’s most recent annual State of the Nation report looking at social mobility in Great Britain.

The fact that disadvantaged young people are 65 percent more likely to go to university than a decade ago is a cause for celebration. However, for every one child from the bottom two poorest groups that goes to university, seven do not. 

Just one in eight children from low-income backgrounds are likely to become higher income earners as adults, according to the report. It also warns about ensuring people get the rights skills for an increasingly skills hungry labour market. Meanwhile, people born in the 1980s are the first post-war generation to face lower incomes at the start of the working lives than their immediate predecessors as the rungs on the social mobility ladder grow further apart. 

The Social Mobility Commission’s assessment is blunt, and urges educators to act differently. ‘The approaches of the past, although they have brought some progress, are no longer fit for purpose. We are in a different world,’ according to the report. 

It’s why we need to rethink how we ‘go’ to university. Too many people are still locked out of higher education. As the Social Mobility Commission says, we need to increase both access to and availability of part-time study for those who want to access HE while working or fulfilling caring responsibilities.

 

As Vice-Chancellor of Arden University, I believe we need to make higher education as widely available as possible. It helps people make the most of their potential at all stages of life, which in turn benefits society and companies. 

Why should someone who has caring responsibilities miss out on a degree just because they can’t attend a traditional university full-time due to the inflexibility of their delivery model? Or a young person loses out because they simply cannot afford the expensive accommodation offered by traditional universities? They could be our very own Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, and we need to ensure they can fulfil their potential.

Of course, there will always be the dreaming spires of university, but we need to move with the times. 

It’s why Arden University is developing a network of study centres starting in London and expanding to Birmingham and further sites in England as we grow, with hundreds of new university places. The centres offer full UK degrees at up to a third less than the fees of traditional universities and a more flexible way to study. This builds on our well-established online offering, which already supports thousands of students each year to successfully progress through higher education on a completely flexible timeline.  

Blended learning students get the structure of university study but with the flexibility of online learning. Generally speaking, three-year undergraduate courses involve two days in the classroom a week for face-to-face teaching and collaboration with peers in term time alongside 24/7 online learning - or four years with an integrated foundation year. The planned part-time MBA courses involve one night a week, plus the same full-support online, over two years. Flexible finance and student loans are available for both degrees and MBAs. 

Blended learning might sound like jargon, but I believe it’s going to be an increasing feature of higher education. It matches what a growing number of people want from going to university. Online distance learning is another higher education sector that will continue to develop. 

Both can help widen access to university because students can still work or fit studies around caring responsibilities or a job, for example, much more easily while getting key workplace skills that benefit them and society - including in computing, business, law and healthcare management. 

Universities can be drivers of social mobility and if that means doing higher education differently, let’s get on with it.

Arden University is a specialist in flexible distance and blended learning. It started out as family-owned business RDI in 1990. Since then, more than 50,000 students have studied with them – and in April 2014, they were awarded degree giving powers and in August 2015 officially became Arden University. Arden offers higher education courses endorsed by professional bodies

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