Part-time study at Oxford

Sarah Ward is a part-time DPhil candidate in History at St. Hilda’s College. The value of part-time study is something that Sarah is particularly passionate about and between studying, working and discussing the Civil War-era divide between the English and Welsh at the How the Light Gets In Festival at Hay in May, she wrote this blog post on the importance of part-time funding.

Sarah Ward

I have had a career in teaching, writing and examining before deciding that life was too short not to pursue my academic plans. After designing courses, winning student-nominated awards for my teaching and pastoral work and writing articles for the A level History journal 20th Century History Review, I decided that I wanted to do more of what I enjoyed most – research a topic that had been nagging at me for years. Another part-timer, David, had a successful career in journalism and information technology, applied to full-time doctoral programmes but was refused funding. As he could not afford to pay the full-time tuition fees, having also to think of supporting a sick parent, he decided the only way to pursue his academic aspirations was to enrol part-time. Now he works two jobs, alongside pursuing part-time research study. The planning and practicalities of rearranging your life to do something that you are passionate about is rewarding but hard – postgraduate funding would help to make this so much easier but there is so little funding already out there. Researching this blog post has revealed to me quite how much of a need there is. According to HESA statistics from 2011-12, over 45 % of UK postgraduates study part-time. This number will surely only grow as Arts and Humanities funding becomes more and more limited.

The Oxford History Faculty began its part-time programme only last year. From my perspective (and contrary to numerous ill-informed blogs and articles) Oxford has been utterly welcoming from the point of my application onwards. I have felt like a full member of the academic community, unlike other places I have studied at part-time prior to my DPhil. It has been challenging, exciting and fulfilling. My supervisor is excellent and has provided fantastic advice and support. My college, St. Hilda’s, has accommodated my part-time status fully and has supported me pastorally and provided opportunities for me to engage with the graduate community – as MCR Library Representative. Yet because the programme is new, there is very little funding available.

On the surface, part-timers have more money due to the fact that they work. Yet with the rising cost of living and expenses associated with working, the money earned in part-time study pays the bills and fees, but research trips, conferences and developmental courses are luxuries that have to be paid for by extra work – which means less studying. This can lead to difficult choices that can leave part-time students without the experience needed to launch a career when they graduate.  Time that could be spent on the huge effort required for funding applications is used instead for earning money and studying which means that a funding gap becomes a vicious circle.

Part-time study is a different option rather than a worse one. That should mean that funding for these courses is different not worse. Where available, funding helps widen participation, opposes charges of elitism and inequality, rewards hard-working and independent people and, above all, supports able and intelligent students to complete original and important projects.


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