This blog is written by Iain Martin, the former Vice-Chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University. It originally appeared as a case study in HEPI’s report Homeward Bound: Defining, understanding and aiding ‘commuter students’ by David Maguire and David Morris.
In response to the needs of our students and the sector-wide concern about the challenges faced by commuting students, Anglia Ruskin University is putting in place a number of measures to respond to and address these challenges. A substantial part of these changes require us to rethink how we structure and deliver our curriculum. The focus is on ensuring that the time our students spend on campus is really worthwhile, and is structured to support engagement.
Our students have told us they have to deal with expensive commuting costs, such as high parking charges, in addition to managing the complex demands of combining study with part-time employment and childcare to fund their courses. Like commuting students elsewhere, our students end up ‘having to make value judgements about the efficacy of attending taught sessions’.
Acknowledging these issues as a systematic set of challenges faced by commuting students, we have agreed to implement changes to the timetabling of our curricular and co-curricular activities. In addition to a range of micro-initiatives developed in partnership with students, we are taking a three-pronged approach, linked to a larger project on active learning:
- providing our students with predictable timetables for the duration of their degrees, so that they are in a better position to plan their lives;
- scheduling educational activities to minimise the need for students to travel to campus for single educational events; and
- supporting student learning both on and off campus through structured active learning opportunities.
To do this, we are reorganising our academic activities, embedding active learning across the institution to make the most of face-to-face engagement when our students are present on campus. In March 2017, the SCALING UP Active Collaborative Learning for Student Success project we are part of was awarded £1 million to roll out innovative new teaching methods to benefit students.
This work is coupled with investment in more structured independent learning opportunities, supporting students in their studies when they are not on campus, through our online virtual learning environment accompanied by the provision of a media server and lecture-recording software to enable staff to enrich their online and in-class teaching.
All of these initiatives address specific challenges identified by commuting students while at the same time providing real benefit for the whole student community.