As many of you across the country are right now, we’re in Union election season here over at the University of York. And actually, that is a far more relevant fact for this post than I thought it would be.
Because it’s often during elections that mature and part-time students face a weird kind of double bind. They’re often overlooked by candidates because they’re perceived to be academic staff or visiting guests to the campus, but many candidates are also keen to tell everyone how they want to engage mature and part-time students.
Now, I will hold my hands up and say that as a candidate for Welfare Officer twice in my Union, I am probably guilty of this, but I think it is important to think about our own behaviour I how we reach out to all members of our Unions.
For example, here at York, the University’s stats tell us we have about 1700 students over the age of 25, making up about 10% of our student population, before we even start adding in students aged 21-25. We know that they are disproportionately clustered in certain departments (for us, nursing, midwifery and others) which often means issues of engagement are tangled up with other aspects, such as the type of course and mode of study (placement, distance-learning), as well as geography- as a lot of people on these courses live outside York and commute in, meaning that your evening meeting to talk to mature students about their experiences of studying might not marry well with their desire to beat the traffic home, before you’ve even factored in the potential of caring responsibilities.
I realise I’m making it sound difficult, and I will also hold my hands up and say we’re definitely not perfect at it ourselves here, but one thing that both last year’s Mature and Part-Time Students conference and being on the committee have taught me is that it’s incredibly important to work out what you do know about your membership. How many students do you have from numerous groups? How do they interact with your Union and University? Are there any big cross-overs?
I was lucky enough to be able to go to the conference, and to be elected as an ex-officio rep on the committee (someone who doesn’t necessarily fit into the campaign’s demographic, but is a helping hand, an ally if you wish), and I would encourage everyone else to get involved in any way you can! The campaign has great conferences, events and resources coming up soon, so keep an eye out, and get some people from your Union to come along!
Bob Hughes, Welfare Officer at the University of York Students’ Union and NUS Mature and Part-Time Students’ Committee (Ex-Officio)