The first year experience of part-time students in a South African university: exploring student support linkages between First year orientation programmes and after hours support services
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The paper argues that once-off and stand-alone orientation programmes offered usually at the beginning of the first year have limited effect if they are not part of a broader array of support systems available to students in various forms for the entire duration of that year. Concerted support systems - which include mentoring, and peer facilitation, early warning mechanisms, student counselling, and time management workshops – are better positioned to support student success, particularly at first year level. Empirical information in this paper is based on research conducted at one South African university, the University of the Western Cape (UWC). The University predominantly recruits among the economically disadvantaged communities of the Western Cape. Surveys conducted during the Orientation Programmes of 2006-2008 showed that more than half of the first year part-time students who attend these programmes are first generation students. In other words, they were the first member of their family to enter the university and expressed the need for specific support throughout the year. More than 90% were employed and carried family responsibilities. Centralised after hours support has been institutionalized only recently (2008), resulting in the implementation of an institution specific model called the ‘After Hours Study Zone’ (AHSZ). The model seeks to link the first year orientation programmes offered at the beginning of the year to tailor-made after hours support throughout the year. In 2008, about 3000 students studied in the University’s after hour’s programmes. They were predominantly working part-time students (N=2702) who were older than the traditional student age (18-25 years). 80% of these part-time students were over 30 years old (source: Management Information System, UWC, 2009 per 4 May 2009). The implementation of the AHSZ model is in line with the University’s lifelong learning mission and is supported by bi-annual research projects, aiming at specific faculties as well as constituencies (e.g. students and staff teaching on the After Hours Programmes). These studies form part of a series of research projects on Adult Learners in Higher Education and are funded by the university as well as by external agencies like the CHE (Council on Higher Education) in Pretoria The paper contextualizes these research findings and contrasts the institutional model with other first year support models in South Africa and findings in the (inter)national literature. It probes whether these models take into account the specific profile and needs of working adult learners who study part-time.