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News Staffordshire University calls on government to recognise commuter students

Staffordshire University welcomes a report which calls for more support for students who live away from campus.

While we are doing what we can to give our diverse student community the best possible experience, it is vital that government recognizes the needs of commuter students and the efforts made by Universities to address these and ensure that sufficient funding remains in place to deliver.

Professor Liz Barnes, Vice-Chancellor

Staffordshire University has welcomed a report which advocates that more should be done to support students who live off campus and commute into University.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) report, Homeward Bound: Defining, understanding and aiding ‘commuter students’, considers the experiences of students who live in the parental home during university.

It finds that commuter students have poorer outcomes than those who move away from home and are less engaged and satisfied with their academic experiences. For example, almost one-in-ten (9 per cent) commuter students would not have entered higher education if they could make their decision again, which is higher than for any other group.

Staffordshire University has a high percentage of students living off campus at their parental or family home (56 per cent) and is one of four universities which is included as a Case Studies in the report.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes, said: “We are in the top 20 for short, medium and long-distance commuters and some of our students are commuting more than 152 miles. 36 per cent of our students are mature, with family commitments and caring responsibilities and 40 per cent of our students come from areas classified as among the most deprived in the country.”

“It is not surprising therefore, that retention remains one of our greatest challenges. In a bid to improve the student experience we have undertaken analysis to try and better understand our students, their drivers and ambitions and this has helped us consider how we shape their experience both in their formal studies and the wider experience.”

“We know students who are more engaged with the University, spend more time on campus and build up a network of peers, are more likely to succeed and to be more satisfied with their student experience. We now have a thriving parents, carers and mature students network and have recently launched a new Children’s Library facility within our main library to cater for those parents who are coming in to the University during weekends and evenings to study.”

Based on good practice case studies, the HEPI report makes a number of recommendations for policymakers and universities:

  • the Post-18 Education and Funding Review should ensure concerns about the cost of living are not restricting students’ choices on where to live;
  • the Teaching Excellence Framework and other assessments of universities should take into account the proportion of each university’s students who commute; and
  • higher education institutions should help commuter students by:
    • adapting induction;
    • re-organising timetables;
    • creating online support communities for commuter students;
    • re-thinking the use of their space and improving facilities aimed at commuter students; 
    • implementing ride-share schemes and focusing on travel safety; and
    • providing co- and extra-curricular activities during the day and early evening.

Professor Barnes added: “While we are doing what we can to give our diverse student community the best possible experience, it is vital that government recognizes the needs of commuter students and the efforts made by Universities to address these and ensure that sufficient funding remains in place to deliver.”

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:“Tackling the challenges commuter students face is not rocket science and it doesn’t even need to cost much. But it does need a commitment to considering their needs across all of a university’s policies. The overall goal must be to help commuter students integrate and succeed.”

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