New research sparks fears over careers advice for part-time students

Part-time students are not receiving the impartial support and advice they require to progress their careers, inhibiting their potential to help pull the country out of economic decline – reveals the Higher Education Careers Services Unit’s (HECSU) ‘Futuretrack: Part-time Students’ study.

The research, due to launch on 10 June and conducted by Birkbeck University of London and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, studied 3,704 part-time students from across the UK. Early findings reveal the growing number of part-time students, who are central to re-skilling and up-skilling the UK’s workforce, want careers guidance, but this demand is being met through the workplace or friends and family rather than professional and impartial careers advisors.

The research reveals part-time students have an appetite for careers information, advice, and guidance with more than half (57%) accessing some kind of careers help. However, as those in employment often receive financial or practical support from their employer they naturally turn to them (32%) or someone at work (30%) for advice, which they also rated the most helpful sources of information. By contrast, those who were not employed depended primarily on help from family and friends (27%) which they also rated as the most helpful source. Only a third of students had had any contact with their university careers service.

Mike Hill, chief executive at HECSU explains: “Most careers services are informed by a typical full-time graduate – young, single and entering university straight from school. Part-time students don’t only meet these criteria. They’re a heterogeneous population and could be anyone from a mature parent or someone creating a career change. Whilst careers services may recognise diversity, many don’t tailor or market their services to meet it, so part-time students do not rely on professionals but turn to contacts closer to home. This is worrying as many students will not be receiving the impartial advice likely to be provided by a professional careers advisor.”

Nearly two thirds (58%) of students who hadn’t used their university careers service knew what they wanted to do and/or had the knowledge to make up their own minds. However, a third were unaware of its existence or thought it did not cater for employed or part-time students. This suggests that HEI careers services need to do much more to market their facilities and broaden their provision to increase awareness and use of the services.   

Professor Claire Callender led the research at Birkbeck University of London. She says: “Specifically HEIs need to re-orientate their services away from services preparing younger students to enter the labour market to those catering for older students already with experience of the labour market who want information, advice, and guidance on career progression and career change. University career services really do need to rethink their offer if they want to capture the part-time student population.”

HECSU’s ‘Futuretrack: Part-time Students’ also found that this group prefers a more personalised approach and face-to-face interaction with careers advisors. 54% found one-to-one sessions the most valuable and only 26% favoured sourcing information via a website.  

Mike adds: “It’s a very real problem that part-time students cannot easily access their careers service because they are often attending either ‘out of hours’ or via distance learning so delivery of information in a one-to-one setting is difficult. However, the research has shown that format of service is important to engaging with part-time students so it’s vital that this issue is addressed.”  

The full report is due to launch on 10 June 2010.

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