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Commuter Students

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Commuter Student Report

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Report Overview: Navigating the Challenges of Commuting Students at SOAS Navigating Commuter Challenges: A Study of Student Experiences at SOAS This study explores the myriad challenges faced by commuting students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), focusing on financial burdens, safety concerns, academic impacts, and social and mental health effects. Utilising a mixed-methods approach, including surveys and interviews with a large number of commuting students, this research aims to quantify these challenges and suggest feasible solutions to enhance the commuter student experience. Introduction The research findings reveal that commuter students encounter various obstacles and offer insights into the strategies they employ to manage their dual roles as students and individuals outside of the university. Understanding the intricate interplay of social, financial, and time-related challenges, as well as considering suggested adjustments to support them, is crucial for the university to enhance the overall experience of commuter students. Compared to their counterparts residing on campus, commuter students were notably more inclined to indicate that their commute to university had an impact on their class attendance. Background Information: Commuting students at SOAS, representing approximately most of the student body, face unique challenges that may affect their academic performance and overall university experience. This study aims to understand and address these issues comprehensively.

Problem Statement:

Commuting students often encounter significant obstacles, including financial strain due to high travel costs, safety issues during late travel, inconsistent access to learning resources, and reduced social engagement opportunities. Research Objectives: To quantify the impact of commuting on student success and well-being, and to identify effective support mechanisms that SOAS could implement. Data Collection Methods: - Surveys: Structured questionnaires assessed the financial impact, academic disruptions, and social challenges related to commuting. - Interviews: Semi-structured interviews provided deeper insights into personal experiences and perceived institutional support. Data Analysis - Quantitative analysis: Statistical techniques, including regression analysis and frequency distributions, were applied to survey data. - Qualitative analysis: Interview transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis to identify recurring themes and suggestions. Results Jamal Akram (SOAS Student Union)

Financial Struggle

Financial struggles pose a significant challenge for commuting students, especially during critical periods such as exams. Student 21 highlighted the exorbitant costs of peak-time travel during exam season, with tickets costing up to £200. Despite the financial strain, students feel compelled to bear these expenses due to necessity. This underscores the immense burden faced by commuting students, particularly during crucial academic junctures. Moreover, the regular cost of commuting serves as a deterrent for many students, influencing their attendance decisions. Approximately 90% of respondents noted the financial challenges associated with commuting, leading to strategic considerations about lecture attendance. Students often find themselves attending sessions selectively to mitigate costs, particularly when faced with peak travel times, which significantly inflate commuting expenses. Furthermore, timetable coherence emerges as a crucial factor influencing commuting students' academic experiences. Around 70% of students highlighted the importance of scheduling lectures outside of rush hour to minimize travel costs and disruptions. Suggestions were made to adjust teaching times to accommodate commuting patterns, emphasising the need for flexibility and consideration of students' logistical challenges. Travel and transport emerged as the most commonly cited areas where SOAS could offer additional support, with 95% of respondents highlighting this need. This finding is unsurprising, considering the significant impact that travel arrangements have on students' overall university experiences. Students specifically mentioned concerns about cost, the potential for a shuttle bus service, parking availability, and the establishment of a commuter student travel network. Regarding cost, one student mentioned that their monthly travel card expense for zones 1-2 amounted to approximately £100, indicating the financial burden that commuting imposes. Several respondents requested financial assistance from the university, including support for travel expenses or discounted travel cards, and even suggested the provision of free Oyster cards. Some students expressed the desire for a university shuttle bus service, similar to those implemented at other institutions like the University of West London. These buses, exclusive to SOAS students, could operate between key locations such as Kings Cross station or Whitechapel, offering a convenient and cost-effective transportation option. Additionally, some students were excited by SOAS SU's exploration of the possibility of shuttle buses, indicating a level of anticipation for potential future arrangements. While parking issues have reportedly improved over time, challenges with on-campus and off-campus traffic persist, prompting calls for further management to alleviate congestion during peak hours. Finally, there were suggestions for the establishment of a commuter student network to facilitate information sharing and support regarding travel routes and conditions. This network could enable commuters to exchange valuable insights, such as updates on traffic conditions, helping fellow students navigate their journeys more effectively. 1 Student 2 refers to a student who participated in the commuter student focus group held in January. Jamal Akram (SOAS Student Union) Safety The issue of safety for women, especially during late travels, resonates strongly among students. One student's poignant observation about the hurdles faced by women, like missing out on social gatherings due to safety concerns, sheds light on the gender-specific challenges female commuting students encounter. Moreover, the delicate balance between safety and affordability emerges in discussions among students. One student's dilemma regarding whether to pay a higher fare for a safer journey or risk discomfort and potential safety issues on a crowded train underscores the complex decision-making process many commuting students face. Furthermore, the apprehension surrounding evening activities extends beyond just the event itself. The worry about traveling home alone in the dark after such activities weighs heavily on many students' minds. Their reluctance to venture out late stems from genuine safety concerns, particularly in rural areas where universities are located. The fear of commuting past certain hours, especially during darker seasons, not only impacts social engagement but also affects students' willingness to participate in extracurricular activities. In essence, these narratives highlight the multifaceted nature of safety challenges faced by students, weaving together concerns about gender-specific risks, financial constraints, and the daunting prospect of traveling home alone in the dark after evening activities. Jamal Akram (SOAS Student Union)

Timetable Direct Academic Impact:

Student 12 brought attention to the direct academic impact of train delays, stating, "Trains being stranded can be late to lecture." This evidence illustrates how transportation disruptions can directly affect students' ability to attend lectures and seminars, potentially compromising their academic progress. Timely Attendance is Crucial: Student 7 emphasized the importance of timely attendance, stating, "Missing five or ten mins really affects the rest of the lecture." This underscores the significance of punctuality for commuting students and the adverse effects of transportation delays on their academic experience. Where students felt that there is the potential to participate there can be issues with how activities fit into their timetable and day: “Societies and clubs usually take place in the evening which makes it much harder to attend if you finish lectures in the middle of the day, as you don’t have a room nearby to rest or work in until the evening. Since most lectures are 9am it is difficult, especially days that seminars are distanced a long time after lectures (Questionnaire)”. Students identified the implications of this in terms of time and commute: “By the time I finish my lectures I am very tired and on top of that I have to commute 1 hour and 30 minutes to arrive home. No energy left for attending any events.” There were also implications as a result of placement locations and organisations. As one student explained their placement had been split into two which resulted in spending “one term on campus in lectures then the other 2 on placement and vice versa” and the alternating absence from campus made it “difficult to keep up with events.” The second significant area of concern pertained to the timetable, with most of students expressing opinions on this matter. They emphasized the importance of scheduling lectures to avoid rush hour and peak travel times, suggesting that classes be arranged between morning and evening peaks to facilitate smoother journeys. Additionally, students called for a re-evaluation of teaching start and end times, noting that current timetabling often inconveniences commuter students by either starting too early or ending too late, thereby increasing overall travel time. Specific suggestions were offered regarding timing adjustments. For instance, students proposed starting the earliest lecture or seminar at 10, scheduling more lectures during the afternoon. Furthermore, there were calls to condense timetabled days, particularly in the earlier years of study, to minimize unproductive gaps between classes. This restructuring would not only enhance students' productivity but also reduce the frequency of commuting, leading to potential cost savings. Students highlighted the benefits of condensing days, such as having fewer days requiring commuting and providing additional time for independent study. This restructuring could also have a positive financial impact on students by reducing travel expenses. Even seemingly minor adjustments, such as shifting lecture times by one hour, were seen as potentially beneficial for students. Overall, these suggestions underscore the potential for modest changes in the timetable to significantly improve the academic experience and well-being of commuter students.

Traffic and delays

The overwhelmingly most common reasons for the impact on attendance are traffic and public transport delays. These delays lead to students missing lectures or being late: “Traffic and cancelled trains have meant that it is impossible for me to get to campus at all, or traffic has meant that I have been late to lectures. This means I am often behind and having to catch up.” This experience was reiterated in interviews, with students commenting on the unpredictability of the commute: “It is hard Jamal Akram (SOAS Student Union) to attend those 9am lectures when … you know you can’t really tell whether your commute’s going to be as easy … it’s not consistent, there’s no consistency with the commute.” Students explained that the ensuing lateness causes embarrassment, discomfort and awkwardness when joining lectures: “I once had an experience where I was ten minutes late…I couldn’t bring myself, find the strength to walk into class because I was so late, and I ended up walking around for ten minutes outside [the lecture theatre] because I was trying to convince myself to walk in…I was too scared to walk in.” Response to lateness varies among lecturers, with some students ‘locked out’ due to ‘zero tolerance’ for lateness and thus having a ‘wasted journey’: “Due to train delays or traffic I have ended up getting late to tutorials and as a result the tutors wouldn't let me into the class. Other lecturers take a more understanding approach and are ‘more accommodating’ One of my lecturers just nods and we try to communicate silently that I’m late but she’s fine with that.”

‘Not Worth Commuting’

Students strategically manage their time by opting for non-attendance and making calculated decisions about when to commute to campus. Most of the questionnaire responses indicated that at times, commuting to campus wasn't worthwhile. One student succinctly expressed this sentiment, stating, "It’s not worth spending £13 to attend a lecture which is 1 hour". Others voiced frustration with their timetables, lamenting situations where lectures were spread out inefficiently across the week, such as having a single 2-hour lecture on four separate days. Furthermore, students cited specific instances where the timing of lectures rendered commuting impractical, such as a 1-hour lecture scheduled for late afternoon, making a lengthy commute seem pointless. The availability of online resources further influences the decision not to attend in person, as students can access lectures remotely and allocate their time more effectively. Jamal Akram (SOAS Student Union)

Accessibility Issues in Societies:

Student 4 emphasized the accessibility challenges within student societies, stating, "Societies don’t feel accessible for commuter students – societies’ structures need to be changed and have events that aren’t just for evenings." This suggests that restructuring student societies could encourage greater participation among commuters. Fatigue and Stress from Lengthy Commutes: A notable portion of questionnaire responses highlighted fatigue, stress, and anxiety stemming from lengthy travel times and frequent delays. Students expressed concerns about the toll on their health and well-being, with some attributing their non-attendance to these issues. The exhausting and stressful nature of commuting, compounded by health concerns, raises doubts about the worthiness of the commute, particularly when lecture materials are available online. Figure 1: Extract from the questionnaire.

Challenges in Participating in Campus Activities:

As previously mentioned, commuter students articulated various reasons for their difficulty in engaging in campus activities. One student made a direct plea for increased opportunities for offcampus students to participate in activities, while another expressed the desire for the university to Jamal Akram (SOAS Student Union) provide options for socializing without the worry of transportation. Suggestions included scheduling afternoon activities to accommodate commuting students' needs, particularly on days when traveling late in the day or on weekends presents challenges. This adjustment could alleviate the difficulty of attending activities regularly, offering a more inclusive approach to campus engagement. Students provided insights into their willingness or ability to participate in extracurricular activities, particularly sports clubs: Some students cited scheduling conflicts as a barrier to participation. For instance, sports activities typically take place on Wednesdays, which are non-teaching days for many students. This arrangement makes it less likely for students to commute if they don't have classes scheduled on that day. Others highlighted the impact of timing and commuting on their ability to fully commit to sports clubs. One student explained that the timing of activities, combined with their commute, made it difficult for them to attend regular practice sessions (Questionnaire, 80). Even for those who manage to join sports clubs, challenges persist. For example, a student who made it into the second team found it difficult to attend training and matches due to the timing. Early morning training sessions, starting as early as 8 am, necessitated waking up at 5 am and resulted in discomfort throughout the day due to being sweaty and needing to carry a change of clothes.

Priority Support from the University:

Financial Relief Through Grants: - There is a clear call from students for tangible support from the university. Student 10 expressed the desire for grants: "Would love to have a grant." Student 5 concurred, emphasizing the potential relief a grant could provide: "A grant would relieve financial strain." This highlights the need for the university to implement financial support mechanisms tailored to the needs of commuting students. - Specific Criteria for Grants: Student 5 highlighted the need for specific criteria for grants, recognizing the prevalence of commuting students at SOAS. This suggests that targeted financial assistance programs could alleviate the financial burden experienced by commuting students. - Proof for Grant Eligibility: Recommendations put forth by students include the need for tangible support mechanisms such as grants. Students outlined the need for proof for grants: "Has to be proved – potentially trying to get a grant for commuter students." This underscores the importance of establishing clear eligibility criteria for financial assistance programs. Flexibility in Timetabling - Student 5 proposed an overhaul of timetabling, advocating for student flexibility in choosing timetables based on module schedules. This suggests that a more flexible approach to timetabling could better accommodate the needs of commuting students and enhance their overall academic experience. - This could allow for students to solve the problem of it ‘not being worth’ coming in. Allowing them to pick their modules with the knowledge of when they will be coming in is a good plan for the future. Deadline extensions - Furthermore, the suggestion for Deadline Extensions, contingent upon valid proof and circumstances such as commuting delays, showcases a proactive approach to supporting Jamal Akram (SOAS Student Union) students facing logistical challenges. These extensions, even if modest like a two-day commuter extension, can make a significant difference in alleviating the pressure on students and ensuring they have equitable opportunities to succeed.


In conclusion, the report delves into the intricate challenges faced by commuting students at SOAS, offering a comprehensive understanding of their experiences and the multifaceted impacts on their academic success and overall well-being. Through a mixed-methods approach, the study captures the voices of 200 commuting students, shedding light on issues ranging from financial strain to safety concerns and the academic implications of transportation disruptions. Financial struggles emerged as a significant hurdle, with students grappling with the burden of high travel costs, particularly during critical academic periods like exams. The demand for financial relief through grants underscores the pressing need for targeted support mechanisms tailored to the unique circumstances of commuting students. Moreover, the call for flexibility in timetabling reflects a desire for greater autonomy in scheduling to better accommodate commuting patterns and enhance the overall academic experience. Safety concerns, especially for women traveling late, highlight the importance of addressing genderspecific risks and creating a secure environment for all students. Additionally, the suggestion for deadline extensions in cases of commuting delays demonstrates a proactive approach to supporting students facing logistical challenges. Ultimately, the findings of this study underscore the necessity for the university to implement practical solutions to alleviate the challenges faced by commuting students, fostering a more inclusive and supportive academic environment. By prioritizing the needs of commuting students and implementing targeted support mechanisms, SOAS can enhance the overall student experience and promote equitable opportunities for success



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