Barriers to study for non-traditional students

By 6 February, 2014 14

I am VERY excited to be starting my degree this year as a full time student at the University of Canberra.  I have studied before – back when I was ‘meant’ to – fresh from Year 12 – but a love of coffee breaks and sleep-ins meant I was less than successful and ended up ‘getting a proper job’ instead.

Now, at 40 I have the opportunity to go back and have another crack at it.  You see, I have three small children and whilst I am desperate (after 2 years at home) to get out in the world and seek some adult conversation – a little debate on interesting topics, drinking coffee with grown ups (whilst still hot) and being able to go to the loo on my own…. Ahhhh (insert dreamy sigh here)

But I digress – I will be starting Uni in a couple of weeks and am excited beyond words.  I am however in a fairly anxious state between now and when my timetable is confirmed.  You see, the degree that I am doing requires 12 contact hours of lectures and tutorials per week.  I have lined up childcare 2 days a week (all I can afford at the current astronomical rates – but that’s another story) and a day with my mum.  I need to make my studies work in that time and if I can’t I need to know so that I can make other arrangements.

With Uni starting on the 17th of February I am told my schedule will be confirmed on the 14th of February…  No, I’m not kidding.  I did all that I was meant to and selected my units in December and my tutorial preferences mid January and yet will not receive confirmation of my timetable until the Friday before I am meant to start.  What exactly happens if I need to juggle something around?  Or should I be in a position where I have full time child care arranged to ensure I can make things fit?

When attempting to confirm my children’s swim instructors a couple of weeks ago I came up against the same challenge.  The swim school had to wait for their Uni students (who are instructors part time) to receive their timetables so that they could work out when they are available to teach.

So, I completely ‘get’ that study like this is a privilege and that I am lucky to be in a position to return to uni, but this just seems like such an un-necessary hurdle.  All selections were done online.  Why is there such a delay in turning around the outcomes???

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14 Responses to Barriers to study for non-traditional students
#1
neanderthalsis8:41 am, 06 Feb 14

Unfortunately universities operate far separated by the realities of life. Most lecturers/tutors have never ventured outside academia and so never understand the needs of those who have to maintain an existence outside academia.

#2
eatthatfrog9:12 am, 06 Feb 14

Hiya morethanmumma. Congratulations on getting into university.

I’ve done the mature student thing a few times, and I think UC is pretty good at it. Some things you may not be aware of, though:

- Generally lectures are taped, so you can catch up online (depends on the subject if they do this or not – Here are some great tips around lectures)
- Your tutes will be full in the first week, but with dropouts the numbers will change dramatically so it becomes much easier to swap tutes after they get a real idea with the numbers
- Evening lectures are the best places to find adults – UC has an awful lot of later tutorials. Most of the day classes are full of young’uns. While there’s nothing wrong with that, you may be better off in a class with a mature bent as they’re much more likely to be flexible with and willing to work with you in the large amount of group work you’ll do

More importantly, get in touch with the wonderful support that is there but you have to fight to find:
- Academic Skills Office
- Equity Office

As for your original question, they argue that part of the learning experience is to learn to function independently, manage your time, and attend lectures while becoming a supportive adult. From my experience in working in a uni, I recall that they have roughly 6 weeks to get all their planning together for planning the lectures and tutorials for undergraduates (remember most numbers are not confirmed until the 2nd week of February).

tl;dr: They have several thousand students who haven’t confirmed their acceptance up until about 2 weeks ago, so that’s why they don’t appear to have finalised their planning yet. You will be a bit of a fish out of water, not being in their main target market, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do things to maximise your chance of meeting more people your age and use services to help you fit in.

Best of luck in your studies.

#3
enrique9:38 am, 06 Feb 14

Here is my experience from past memory.

It all comes down to enrollment numbers. The uni allows enrollments up to a certain date – until that date, they cannot be absolutely certain how many students are taking each course across the entire university so unfortunately it’s not really possible to make firm plans until the cutoff date.

Once the cutoff takes place there is then a fairly tricky task of scheduling and room bookings – again this needs to happen with all courses across the entire uni. Once all that occurs you can then start getting a picture about your own schedule.

Lastly in regards to tutorials, you ‘compete’ with other students to pick your preferred tutorial times. You may end up having to go with your second or later preferences due to competition for limited spaces.

BTW – good on you for going back and studying again. What are you enrolling in?

#4
astrojax9:44 am, 06 Feb 14

good questions – rekkun you oughta be asking the vc at the uni, but, not the hive mind… seriously – i’d love to hear the uni’s reply.

good luck, though. you’ll love it! mature age study is its own reward. and the role model you’ll set for the kids is brilliant. good upon you.

#5
towerofsoup10:01 am, 06 Feb 14

The whole ‘pick your preferences’ thing sucks, and I guess it takes a while to work through all the first year units, and they want to make it fair for everyone who gets a late offer. On the plus side, you only have to go through this for first year units which are in the first semester of the year. For everything else it is a first come first served type deal.

I’ve also found that if you don’t get your preference, someone who has been placed in the tute you wanted will have also missed out on their first preference and will switch out, so don’t be afraid to chat to the tutor and get your name down for the one you actually want. The system will open up for moves shortly after the preferences are sorted. And tutes are usually not on in the first week of uni, so this gives you a little time to get everything sorted out.

Also, most lectures are recorded. I’ve only had one unit where they were not recorded! I would have a chat to the lecturer about your situation – they are really understanding (well, all of mine have been) and may have some other ideas to help you out.

Best of luck!

#6
NoAddedMSG10:34 am, 06 Feb 14

I agree with eatthatfrog’s reasons for the delay – the unis are still making late offers even now, and the modelling for predicting final numbers is problematic. So it is only now that they are working out how many tutorial slots they need etc, and so room allocations and timetabling can really only start now, and it all takes time. The main offering process is connected to the release of high school results, so the only way it is changing is if high school results come out earlier.

#7
zorro2911:19 am, 06 Feb 14

Oh seriously??? Get your act together and stop expecting the world to bend around you and what a special snowflake you are. Universities shouldn’t have to give everyone different warning of timetabling – they have thousands of students and heaps of staff to coordinate…students just have their own lives. If it’s too much for you to juggle the /horrendous load/ of having kids and attending uni a whopping 12 hours a week, then maybe you should give up and try organising yourself (like you couldn’t do when coffee and sleeping was more important). The world doesn’t have to tie your shoelaces for you…sort it out.

#whingers #firstworldproblems

#8
someone11:28 am, 06 Feb 14

eatthatfrog has some solid advice! I’d add to that great post the following:

If you have time issues, listen to the lectures and go to the tutorials well prepared. (but actually getting to the lectures is a huge help!). I found that, other than evening classes, 9am Friday morning was the best “grown up” tutorial you could find: the kids that like to party on Thursday night all avoid it like the plague, so you end up in a room full of 30+ year olds, and gunners. it’s delightful.

ABSOLUTELY – get in touch with equity now (NOT when you’re struggling to get things done: now. establish the relationship and get the support asap). don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

regarding the timetable, it’s an enormous pain in the ass for everyone.. it’s the opposite of neanderthalsis’ claim: most lecturers and tutors are also shafted by the non-scheduling of classes, as they too are unable to plan their research/childcare/other activities. it used to be that a timetable was set 4 months in advance, and if you couldn’t make a class – or too many people enrolled to fit into the lecture hall – tough. the “last minute” schedule is intended to benefit students – for example, there are international students who cannot maintain their visa without maintaining a level of enrollment and students with compulsory subjects who can’t graduate because of that one subject that’s only offered once every two years and then not at a time they can make is. There are now huge efforts to make sure rooms are large enough… etc.

last of all – congrats on going back! have a great time and good luck.

#9
Antagonist12:01 pm, 06 Feb 14

eatthatfrog said :

Hiya morethanmumma. Congratulations on getting into university.

I’ve done the mature student thing a few times, and I think UC is pretty good at it. Some things you may not be aware of, though:

- Generally lectures are taped, so you can catch up online (depends on the subject if they do this or not – Here are some great tips around lectures)
- Your tutes will be full in the first week, but with dropouts the numbers will change dramatically so it becomes much easier to swap tutes after they get a real idea with the numbers
- Evening lectures are the best places to find adults – UC has an awful lot of later tutorials. Most of the day classes are full of young’uns. While there’s nothing wrong with that, you may be better off in a class with a mature bent as they’re much more likely to be flexible with and willing to work with you in the large amount of group work you’ll do

More importantly, get in touch with the wonderful support that is there but you have to fight to find:
- Academic Skills Office
- Equity Office

As for your original question, they argue that part of the learning experience is to learn to function independently, manage your time, and attend lectures while becoming a supportive adult. From my experience in working in a uni, I recall that they have roughly 6 weeks to get all their planning together for planning the lectures and tutorials for undergraduates (remember most numbers are not confirmed until the 2nd week of February).

tl;dr: They have several thousand students who haven’t confirmed their acceptance up until about 2 weeks ago, so that’s why they don’t appear to have finalised their planning yet. You will be a bit of a fish out of water, not being in their main target market, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do things to maximise your chance of meeting more people your age and use services to help you fit in.

Best of luck in your studies.

^^^^ From one mature age student of similar age (also with three kids) to another …. THIS !!!

Recorded lectures are your best friend, followed very closely by access and equity.

#10
pierce12:40 pm, 06 Feb 14

Don’t forget to share your relevant life experiences with your young, unworldly classmates and preface every other question/statement in tutes and lectures with “As a mother…” so that know that they should take your contributions on board.

:)

#11
morethanmumma3:54 pm, 06 Feb 14

Thanks worldly RiotAct people. Eatthatfrog and others great suggestions and I hadn’t thought of the late offers. I still tend to think confirmation two days prior to classes starting is a bit rough. Zorro29 – like the sound of your own voice much? Maybe you could do with a bit more sleep and a coffee yourself. And Pierce – hell yes!

#12
Ryoma5:17 pm, 06 Feb 14

Hi morethanmumma

Good on you for going back to Uni. I did it a few years ago in Melbourne, and the hassles around the timetables, etc, were much the same down there.

Some things I’d point out are:

- you mentioned having conversations with grown-ups. I went to Uni in my mid 30′s, and found it really hard to find much intelligent conversation with many of the students who were straight out of high school.

- another thing I found somewhat sad was that the international and domestic students did not mix much; the domestic students often seemed quite insular; they’d just turn up to lectures or tutorials and immediately drive home agin. Hopefully it’s better here in Canberra.

- depending upon what you choose to study, much of the assignments, etc, will be group work. This can involve being put into a group with both international students and younger doemstic students, both of which carry different challenges. My suggestion would be to watch who asks questions in the first few tutuorials, and (as mentioned, who in fact turns up at all!). These students are likely to be more motiavted and better to work with. And I’d rank a lot of the international students ahead of many (not all) domestic students in this group; despite some troubles withEnglish, I found them to work a lot harder.

- As mentioned, pick the times that are more likely to have adult students (i.e nights and early mornings) for tutorials; you’re more likely to get those who are hungry to learn turning up at those times.

- Talk to your tutors/lecturers, etc about your concerns. Most will do what they can to assist.

- And finally; do what suits you. Many of the young kids will drop out in first year, so feel free to ask questions and raise ideas, reagrdless of what others think of you. You’ll get out of Uni what you put into it!

Good luck, I hope it works out well for you! :)

#13
IrishPete10:50 pm, 07 Feb 14

Welcome to UC.

Surely you can get an idea of your timetable from here http://www.canberra.edu.au/timetable2014/default.aspx

Yes tutorials are a bit of a lottery, but as others have said you can often swap or move tutorial after a week or two. I can assure you I am extremely flexible, though I am not involved in any first-year units.

I think many, most or even all Units are now offering at least one online tutorial, so what with recorded lectures, maybe you don’t need any childcare at all. I haven’t had the “pleasure” of an online tutorial yet, but that awaits me in two weeks (I’m hoping no-one enrols for it!).

But I’d recommend attending lectures – you can’t ask questions of a recording. You can’t mix with other students while listening to it. it’s not the university experience. Nor are online tutorials, but at least they’re interactive.

IP

#14
switch10:27 am, 08 Feb 14

Ryoma said :

- And finally; do what suits you. Many of the young kids will drop out in first year, so feel free to ask questions and raise ideas, reagrdless of what others think of you. You’ll get out of Uni what you put into it!

First lecture at Sydney Uni: “Look at the person on your left. Look at the person on your right. Look at yourself. One of you will get a degree.”

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