Making sense of the transitional maelstrom of part-time students and their conceptions of learning as mediated by conceptional domains of work, family and self. A case study of undergraduate, part-time political studies students at a university in South Africa
MetadataShow full item record
The traditional trajectory of young students in higher education in South Africa is currently under sharp scrutiny and the general provision is considered to be inadequate in terms of quality, diversity and quantity. There is a proposal to increase the participation rate of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 from 16% (in 2011) to 23% by 2030 (DHET, 2012). Already, the increase in access to young school leavers without the concomitant resource allocation has resulted in the inability of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) to continue to provide access to ‘non-traditional’ working adults in some of its programmes. The large classes for young undergraduates, the necessary foundation/support programmes to assist under-prepared school leavers, recent demands to increase postgraduate study output and to publish are related pressures influencing the decisions to limit undergraduate part-time studies for adult learners. To address this ‘dilemma’ an action research project was launched to introduce lifelong learning opportunities that are conceptualised and provided in flexible ways. The intention is to challenge both the university and workplaces to interrogate understandings and approaches to professional development and to support innovation that will enhance successful access and success for working people. The Political Studies department at UWC is one of the pilot sites for the action research and initial reflections on the challenge to introduce flexible modes of teaching and learning revealed that the attempts may be constrained by prevailing conceptions of the trajectories of part-time students. Instead of the traditional, linear transition into higher education – normally associated with younger learners – trajectories for mature adult learners are less linear, more complex, and include ‘stop-outs’ and discontinuities within transitions (Stevenson & Clegg, 2012). This paper describes the national transitional context of higher education in South Africa and the precarious location of working adults studying at UWC within this context. It further explores the transitional maelstroms as shared by a sample of part-time Political Studies students; it considers the roles and influence of the contextual domains of work, family and self; and examines the implications for mature students, their workplaces and the Political Studies department at the university.