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Part-time numbers falling through the floor but nobody is mending the problem

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Higher education, Social Mobility

Our State of the Nation highlighted a worrying fall in the numbers of part-time students. Universities UK (UUK) published a report yesterday showing further dramatic falls in part-time undergraduate study, which make uncomfortable reading for anyone interested in this mode of study.

UUK reported that between 2009–10 and 2012–13 part-time study has shrunk by a quarter (24%). Emerging data for 2013–14 suggests that English part-time study is half (47.8%) of the levels seen in 2010–11.

Part-time study is absolutely vital for social mobility and the economy. For many who didn’t go to university, for whatever reason, as a teenager part-time study offers a vital route into higher education – so called ‘second chance learners’. This type of study offers students an opportunity to study while maintaining other responsibilities such as staying in work (82% earn while learning) or having caring duties. Almost half (44%) of part-time students are the first in their family to enter higher education and almost a third (29%) are from low-income backgrounds.

Part-time learning also plays an important aspect in upskilling the workforce, offering individuals an opportunity to retrain or learn new skills. Professor Mary Stuart highlights that by 2020, over 70% of the workforce will have completed its compulsory education, meaning that part-time degree level study is a vital learning route.

Current trends, however, suggest the HE part-time study route has becoming increasingly unattractive. So why are the numbers falling through the floor? The UUK report suggests that higher education institutions think the economic downturn and reforms to undergraduate funding are contributing to a worrying decline.

Certainly, fees for part-time study have increased by 27%. Alongside this the funding available for students has diminished, with HEFCE reporting that the “changing trend indicates that there are fewer entrants on part-time courses who are paying their own way, or who are able to find indirect sources of funding for their studies”. Employer funding has reduced significantly: from 40,000 students in 2008-09 and 2011-12 receiving employer support, which then fell to around 23,000 in 2012-13.

But that appears to only be part of the story. Research from HEFCE last year highlighted that a decline in part-time study is not an inevitable consequence of an economic recession. In fact, as the chart shows below, in 2010-2011 half of OECD countries saw a growth part-time study.

OECD Chart - Part time students  JPEG

Clearly part-time study needn’t decrease, meaning there needs to be urgent action to fully understand why part-time student numbers are decreasing so rapidly in the UK. The Commission expressed concern about these continued falls and the lack of action by the Government to address them in its recent annual report.

To tackle this, the Government needs to develop an action plan with the explicit aim of increasing the number of part-time students. This would include developing a better understanding of why numbers are declining and putting in place measures to encourage and attract part-time learners. It’s worth considering issues like whether institutions are offering sufficient part-time provision and if the current part-time student support and fee regime is adequately structured to enable truly flexible and part-time learning.

Full time student numbers are increasing which is very welcome but the continued decline in part-time student numbers is deeply concerning as ultimately it means a far less diverse sector as well as fewer routes for “second chances” for those from less advantaged backgrounds.

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  1. Comment by bob posted on

    For many who didn’t go to university, for whatever reason, as a teenager part-time study offers a vital route into higher education – so called ‘second chance learners’..

    For students as a teenager or indeed up until 25 years old the civil service through government regulation outsources decision to an unregulated agent of the state. The third party agent, the state employees, (an economist would argue this is employment, as there is transfer of value an option on someone else’s funding would have a cash value. This is also separate from the third party means testing, as even if qualify on third party means testing there is also the third party veto.

    Quite why someone should be means tested on a third party income, or why someone should there should be a third party veto. Or why the student finance or indeed the government thinks that the equality act does not apply to them.

    Imagine if a bank used a third party agent who had a veto on funding and they choose to exercise that on a discrimatory basis the bank would be liable by choosing to employee this agent.

    The problem with this system in respect to social mobility is the government do not use a consistent standard of decision maker they are unregulated if someone is from a worse back ground likely to be a decision maker from a so called worse background.

    If someone from say criminal background, go to university the government choose someone from a criminal background as decision maker etc.

    It’s the government use of unregulated agents, the government not being accountable as private business would be, the bias of courts in respect to government.

    Imagine if third party was given a veto over ministers funding , the queens funding, they would object however these very people are happy to violate the rights of others claiming rights expecting rights they do not offer to others the historic lack of integrity.

    I remember when at university and had problem with the government agents I ended up having drop out when had injury, yet the civil service were aware of the problems before but insisted on running with their agents.

    The problem then as would imagine now is the the government crowd out other sources of funding, so when I went to my university firstly asked about hard ship funding they advised if government agents vetos funding then cant get that either.

    This is still correct to this day with the loan system.

    Because the government offer funding to many it crowds out private funding sources for undergrads.

    When I was targeted by HM governments to have my funding cut after full grand for 3 years, I enquire if they offer equal rights funding based on my circumstances, not only do they not do that they block the hardship funding.

    This is great British ministers that signed of on this legislation.

    Its now also in breach of equality act, at the time it was in breach of the human rights act, I believe but civil service is joke in this respect, as they have no standard for running agents as no accountability you may get an unqualified 16 year old running agents in theory.

    The real answer of course is to ban the use of agents by the british government or make civil services legally responsible as would a private business or individual be, or really make minister responsible.

    Ministers expect these rights yet target younger adults with aggressive discrimination .

    It does not take Nate silver to figure if the government use typically worse agents for worse backgrounds then outcome may be worse.

    It quite a ruse on governments behalf as bit of a derren brown, mis direction, they claim you have to choose your agent, yet have a choice of 1 often determined by their critiera.

    They set the criteria they choose the agent.

    Imagine if the NHS or police or courts used third party agents to access there services, third parties had a veto on the use of the police courts etc.

    The British civil service use unregulated agents the NHS police courts etc don’t.