Last year alone the number declined by 8 per cent. This is not just bad news for the individuals who miss out; society at large will be the poorerby Claire Callender / June 30, 2017 / Leave a comment
Tuition fees were in the headlines again recently, thanks to Labour’s pledge to abolish them in the run-up to 8th June. But nearly all the stories grabbing the spotlight are about young full-time students. Issues about part-time students and the challenges they face often go unnoticed. This is a big problem, for they are severe.
Within the last six years, the number of part-time undergraduates starting a degree at an English university has fallen by 61 per cent. Last year alone the numbers declined by over 8 per cent—the seventh successive year there has been a drop—and this academic year part-timers made up only 20 per cent of all undergraduate entrants. The fall has been greatest among older students, those wanting to do “bite size” courses, and those with low-level entry qualifications—all typically “widening participation” candidates.
Make no mistake: this is a crisis. Part-time study is important for universities because it can provide a more flexible, diverse higher education system while broadening access. And it is crucial to society at large: it can enhance social mobility, increase productivity and drive growth. Skills development via part-time study helps employers too. It minimises absence from work, with individuals investing their own time and money in work-related study.
Crucially, it is vital to the individuals who undertake it, who want to develop, maintain and improve their existing skills. It can serve as a lifeline for people who cannot afford to give up work to study full-time, or who look after their children during the day—perhaps while a partner is at work.
“The eligibility criteria for loans are very restrictive. The vast majority of potential part-time undergraduates do not qualify”
Several factors have contributed to the decline. Most important are the infamous 2012/13 reforms of student funding, undertaken by the coalition government. The changes to part-time funding aimed to open up access to higher education, make it more affordable, and encourage more people to study part-time. They have had the opposite effect.
The 2012/13 policy changes withdrew most of the public funds universities received for teaching. This lost income was replaced by higher tuition fees, capped at £6,750 a year for part-time courses (£9,000 for full-time courses). This was, of course, highly controversial at the time. Students can take out government-funded loans to pay for their higher fees. Part-time Bachelor…