It seems for a while there has been a quiet shift taking place across the higher education. The widening participation agenda and the rise in tuition fees have brought about a very complex relationship for institutions and their students.
Significantly those campuses that are serviced by good public transport links have given rise to what we now call the ‘commuter student’. These are the individuals who, for whatever reason, have decided to stay at home and study.
These students are not always ‘local’ - some will travel for several hours into order to get to classes - they are governed not just by their commute (public transport timetables) but by many other factors that can impact on their experience at university. Their decision to be a commuter student might be financial, given that maintenance costs do not cover the true costs of living away from home. They may also choose to be close to family for other reasons, health, friendship networks, already in employment or have caring responsibilities.
Commuter students also tend to be from disadvantaged backgrounds. Recent research by Liz Thomas for TSEP shines a spotlight on commuter students and how they engage with their studies and the wider higher education experience. The recent article in the Guardian by Liz Lightfoot drew attention to the plight of some students who shared their experiences of being a commuter student. Nick Hillman points out that commuter students are less likely to get good degrees. However, there are institutions beginning to consider how the commuter students can be supported, such as Janette Myers a senior lecturer in Student Learning and Support St George’s, University of London, has designed various resources to help students study while they commute. She divides activities into the follow categories: Planning, Reviewing, Thinking, Reading and Listening to help students.
Finally, there is the notion of the ‘sticky campus' which as Alastair Robertson talked about when Abertay University were looking to transform their approach to teaching and learning, through a whole institutional curriculum, radically altering assessment and feedback practices. He claims the ‘concept is simple and yet complex in its operationalisation.’
In this month’s @HEA_chat / @LTHEchat (25/04/18) I am keen to explore what we should do to support commuter students; do you know how many of your students are commuter students? What issues do you see them struggle with? What are the neat tips and tricks we could usefully employ that would help these students? What do they miss out on? I’m interested in what some call the ‘sticky campus’: what is meant by this, how can we create this?
I would argue that we need to look at commuter students from the perspectives of;
- Our teaching practice – what we can do to help students,
- Campus facilities, security, welcome spaces to hang out (sticky campuses), lockers with charging points, affordable food & drink, access to a kettle/microwave.
- Timetabling, advance information to support commuter students.
- Digital spaces (use of VLE, resources for on the go, with or without Wi-Fi, use of social media to share updates etc.
- Building community so everyone can feel a part of something.
For those of you who follow me on twitter @mannerings69 I have collected ideas from others and am now keen to collect more. For further information about the HEA's work on student retention and success please click here.