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The student population at UTS is extremely diverse in age, experience, social and ethnic background. This is in part a result of the University's equity policies, designed to encourage participation of those groups often excluded from tertiary education, and in part a result of the University's extensive provision for part-time study. In a typical year:
- 50% are women.
- 45% are over 25.
- 50% of students are born outside Australia.
- 40% have a language background other than English.
- more than 90 language groups were represented.
- UTS has one of the highest enrolments of indigenous students in the Australian higher education system.
The traditional stereotype of a population of full-time students in their late teens to early twenties, with little or no experience of life outside the education system has little relevance to many Faculties at UTS. This has important consequences for teaching practice and course administration, some of which will be addressed in the following discussion.
The presence of a high proportion of mature adults in your classes provides you, as a teacher, with both opportunities and challenges. These students are usually highly motivated, as is shown by the willingness of many to give up leisure time after a day's work. This means on the one hand that they may be highly disciplined, and on the other that they want 'value for money' from their classes. They expect their face-to-face classes to be organised, coherent and cogent, and can usually tell when they are not.
Some students will already have considerable work experience and possibly tertiary qualifications related to the field of study. While such students will obviously resent being 'talked down to', other, less experienced students will be baffled and left behind if the teaching is pitched at too high a level. This dilemma can be resolved if you, as a teacher, are prepared to acknowledge the expertise existing in the class. Most students will be happy to share their knowledge with the class, thus providing an important resource and making learning appear to be a truly collective endeavour. The experience and knowledge of many students will thus form a solid foundation upon which to build your teaching.
Many courses at UTS are designed to suit the needs of part-time students. A high proportion of teaching is done in the evenings to enable students who are employed full time or have other commitments to attend. Teaching in some faculties is arranged in three hour blocks, rather than the one-hour sessions common in many universities and many classes are held over weekends in block mode. Part-time students typically expect classes to be complemented by opportunities for online or other independent learning opportunities to enable them to juggle their busy lives. The same is largely true of full-time students, many of whom are also working to support their studies.
Part-timers should ideally receive the same access to, and quality of, staff assistance as full-timers - an objective which can be difficult to achieve given the time constraints on both students and staff (many of whom are also part time).
- UTSOnline is a good way of providing support for part-time (and other) students. Ensure that students know how often you will login to respond to questions (for example tell them that you will respond within two working days, or that you will respond on Tuesdays and Fridays). Also try to provide some suitable consultation times for your part-time students, such as before or after a scheduled class, and provide them with the option of phone consultation times.
- If you intend to have group work and assignments allow the students to form groups around common interests, availability and location.
Staff should also be aware that part-time students have little or no free time on campus, and are therefore less likely than full timers to pick up information about university services or events.
- Take particular care to inform part-timers in advance of any known events, such as room changes or staff absences which are likely to affect them. Announcements on UTSOnline can be very useful in these situations.
- Inform your part-time students, in class, of relevant academic and other support services available in the evening.
A number of courses offered at UTS require students to gain industrial or professional experience as part of their studies or provide the option for students to do so. In some cases students will have programs of study negotiated with the university, the employer and the students. In other cases, each student will negotiate their own program using a learning contract or similar which reflects the opportunities available in the workplace.
These arrangements naturally depend on the goodwill of employers for their continued success. Faculties which have professional experience programs usually have one or more members of staff who assist in coordinating placements and programs, but many staff may be involved in supervising or liaising with students in the workplace. Students undertaking work placements and industrial experience are still regarded as students of the University, and many of them enrol in subjects during their industrial experience semesters. The nature of the relationship between the University and the employers, and the type and level of contact students are required to maintain with the University during this time vary from Faculty to Faculty.
UTS courses recognise that some of the students who enrol are already considerably experienced and knowledgeable practitioners in the field. They may already have the content knowledge which is required to satisfy the requirements for the course or they may have completed other subjects relevant to the course.
Students may apply for credit for prior learning for specified or unspecified subjects. Many Faculties offer block credit for completion or particular levels of performance in specified TAFE courses. Many UTS courses have close links with industry and specified credit may also be offered for completion of industry-based short courses or similar. Credit may also be given on provision of relevant and authentic evidence of equivalence provided in an RPL portfolio, or through a 'challenge' process in which students who apply for RPL are offered the opportunity to complete subject assessments. Check with the course coordinator for your faculties policy on RPL.
UTS has a strong equity plan, which provides for the admission and support of students from groups which have not traditionally participated in tertiary education. For example, the inpUTS scheme allows for special admission for students who are educationally disadvantaged due to illness, language, economic or refugee background, family trauma or other factors. Some students are poorly prepared for tertiary study because of language, literacy, numeracy, or study skills problems. There are also many students who represent the first generation in their family to go on to tertiary study. They may experience conflicting demands on their time, or receive little support from families and friends who lack experience of the demands of a university course. The University has a number of facilities to help students with academic and/or personal problems. Staff involved in student support rely on academic staff to refer students to them as necessary, so it is important to be alert for students who are exhibiting such problems and to be prepared to make the appropriate referral. Each Faculty has one or more Academic Liaison officers and these can be a first point of contact for staff seeking advice for a particular student.
UTS has a growing population of students with disabilities, including vision, hearing, speech, mobility, learning disabilities, mental illnessness and other conditions which affect the way that they manage their studies. The University's equity plan requires that staff become aware of the difficulties faced by students with disabilities, and that they provide a supportive educational environment. Academic staff members will be informed at the beginning of the semester whether they have any students with disabilities in their classes, provided these students have contacted the special needs service in Student Services or the Academic Liaison Officer in the faculty.
Staff should exercise empathy in assisting students with disabilities to maximise their learning opportunities, and be aware that students with disabilities must often make considerably more effort than others to simply complete course requirements. Some students, such as those in wheelchairs, will be immediately obvious to staff and usually receive consideration. Others have hidden disabilities such as difficulties in concentration, organisation or behaviour resulting from acquired injuries, or have medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis where symptoms, and hence problems with university studies, may vary in severity over time. It is always a good idea to seek feedback from students with disabilities as to how you can best assist them, and to make sure they are aware of available support services. Encourage them to find out the details of the services available on 9514 1177. If they will need alternative assessment arrangements refer them to the Academic Liaison Officer.
Staff at UTS are encouraged to make reasonable adjustment, that it, making alterations to educational programs, procedures and facilities that will enable students with disabilities access to educational programs in a sensible, fair and equitable manner. Students with disabilities have the same rights as other students to fulfil their academic potential. Reasonable adjustment based on an assessment of each student's needs must be made to ensure full educational opportunity and effective communication while maintaining academic ability as the primary basis for participation in tertiary education.