Why Have A Nationwide External Student Association?

Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela was possibly the world’s most famous external student. While incarcerated in prison for 27 years, he studied Law as a University of London External Student. More examples of Nobel Prize-winning external students are Derek Walcott, Sir FG Watkins, Prof R Coase and Wole Soyinka. This is just looking at the University of London. Some of these would now be called international students, studying externally as they lived far, far away. But what is the difference between ‘distance’ and ‘external’? These terms are often confused and used synonymously, but there is a key difference. An external student does not attend lectures and seminars on campus. The term ‘external’ seems more meaningful as it denotes how the person interacts with the university, while the term ‘distance’ could be anything from a few kilometres to 5000 kilometres. There are also ‘internal’ students who study online for a third trimester and many other mixed mode combinations.

For the student, the major distinction between internal and external is possibly whether one is mostly studying on one’s own or whether one congregates with other students for lectures and tutes. The meetings with other students tend to provide a great deal of support, purpose and encouragement. Students living on campus are often provided with meals, room cleaning, sports facilities and entertainment, and in some cases a lot of partying!

In contrast, most external students are part-time (75% in 2012), having to hold down a job while studying. They often have a family to attend to, with all the interests and responsibilities that that entails. While the proportion of female internal students has remained the same (53%) over the past 12 years, the proportion of female external students has risen to nearly 66%, two in three.

Having finished work, cooked the family dinner and put the kids to bed, it can be hard to find the energy to study. It can also be very lonely, having to cut oneself off from one’s partner or family to focus on studies. The needs and wishes of external students tend to be very different to on-campus students.

This year the proportion of external students in Australia is likely to be about the same as the proportion of postgraduates and of overseas students, about one in four. While these other groups are fully represented on student association boards and university councils, external students hardly feature at all. Furthermore, the terms ‘distance’, ‘external’ and ‘online’ do not exist in the Higher Education Acts while all the other distinctions do.

With the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and the lack of space for city universities to physically expand, the number of external students is predicted to rise significantly. Hence, given the vast difference in the interests and issues faced by external, in comparison to internal, students, we have formed the Australian Online and External Students Association.

AOESA was formed in late 2012 as a non-profit, national, democratic, pan-university body. Membership is currently free. We are approachable, transparent and always open to suggestions.

We may not be able to get students out of incarceration but we will do the best to help your studies run smoothly.

For more information: www.aoesa.org

- Colin Hargreaves

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