Reporter 403, 2 June 1997

Success story for part-time degrees

Part-time undergraduate numbers have risen ten-fold in the last six years. Today there are nearly 500 at the University. The Office of Part-Time Education, which has overseen this tremendous growth, has just received an award for its Combined Business Studies course. Full-time worker, mother-of-two and part-time student Kalvinder Degun tells the Reporter why she’s doing one of the University’s most popular part-time degrees

“You’ve got more girl-power than the Spice Girls, Mum.” High praise indeed from a six year old, but the downside of Kalvinder Degun’s part-time degree is that her children can get their revenge and tell her to do her homework. Kalvinder is in the second of a five year part-time degree in Combined Business Studies at the University, one of the hundreds of people in the Leeds area taking advantage of its innovative programme.

Kalvinder was doubtful when she first approached the University. “You think of Leeds University and you think of brain boxes – there’s no way they’d do things at my level. But I was really surprised at what’s on offer.” After starting the course she realised not everyone doing a degree is a genius, “they’re just normal people who really want to learn.” Her own motivation comes from a desire to move on in her career. She feels that adding a degree to her CV will improve her chances of promotion in the trade union she works for, or, if she moves on, employers will realise “I’ve committed myself to something for five years and succeeded.”

The Combined Business Studies degree is tailored to fit the needs of part-time students, says Dr Tony Donajgrodzki, Director of Part-Time Education at the University – for example, almost one third of their credits can be based on a work-related project. All the lectures are in the evening, and tutors are flexible about deadlines if a child is ill or there are pressures at work. Kalvinder has to juggle her degree, her job and her two children and finds she values her spare time a lot more. Doing a degree “makes you want to live life to the max.”

Mentoring, where new part-time students can turn to a more experienced second year for help and advice, is one of the support networks introduced by the Office of Part -Time Education. Kalvinder says “it’s working really well” and has found a new set of friends all striving for the same thing. She sees herself as part of a team pulling together and giving encouragement if the going gets tough. More support is provided through first year modules which train people used to writing reports at work into an essay style of writing. A statistics module lets people brush up on long-forgotten or never-acquired maths skills. IT also plays an important role, with bulletin boards providing vital information. Dr Tony Donajgrodzki sees email as a “great tool for the future.”

The learning process for adult students is two-way – the lecturers learn a lot from the students. One of Kalvinder’s lecturers told her that he wasn’t “out there” and wanted to know if their experiences conflicted with the textbook view of how businesses work. “We can tell them the reality isn’t always like the theory.”

The degree course has opened up a whole new world to Kalvinder – and to her children. When she was young she only owned one book. It was about seashells and she was determined her own children would have access to a house full of books. She occasionally takes them into the Brotherton Library as she thinks they should feel it’s normal to go into a library. They already think it is normal for their mother to be studying for a degree, and her eldest son’s school marks have improved dramatically since she started. Kalvinder thinks her children are much more likely to go on to higher education, and they realise if they work hard they won’t have the difficulties she faces.

Tony Donajgrodzki is delighted at the growing interest in part-time degrees. The award from the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education recognises the innovative nature of the CBS programme, particularly the work-based projects and support stuctures. He says that while Leeds is an old, well-established and comparatively well-resourced university, it is a new university when it comes to providing part-time degrees and the recognition is a welcome boost. The greatest challenge, he says, is “enabling students to get the best out of the good resources we have here, bearing in mind they have work and home lives to juggle.”

A recent survey showed almost one person in four is currently learning and this figure is likely to grow as more people seek to improve their job opportunities.

The University is well-placed to meet growing demand for part-time courses and maintain its position as one of the top three providers of adult education outside London.

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