A report published by HEPI (21 March 2013) and written by Professor David Maguire, Vice Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, discusses the importance of part-time higher education.  The report therefore notes with concern the extent of the reduction in part-time student demand and notes also that the decline in demand has accelerated sharply this year, even among those part-time students eligible for loans.  HEPI argues  that  not only is it likely that large numbers of part-time students have been put off study by the increased cost, but also that the measure that the Government put in place in the hope of offsetting the potentially off-putting impact of the cost increase has not been effective.

Part-time education – whether at undergraduate or postgraduate level – is an extremely important element in higher education.  It helps to widen participation, and is an essential element in developing the nation’s skill base.  It is also something that is a feature of higher education in the United Kingdom that sets it apart from much of the rest of the world.

The report gives a comprehensive account of the characteristics of part-time students, who tend to be

  • Older, with around 80 per cent over 25 on entry to HE (with the bulk aged 30-39) compared to around 20 per cent over 25 for full-time
  • Female (61 per cent of part-time, 54 per cent of full-time students female)
  • White (10 per cent of part-time, 16 per cent full-time from ethnic groups)
  • Living in the same region as they are studying (80 per cent of part-time students study in the same region as they are domiciled)
  • Studying a more limited range of typically vocational subjects with 23 per cent studying Subjects Allied to Medicine, compared to 8 per cent full-time
  • Working immediately prior to starting a course (over 80 per cent part-time, compared to about 50 per cent full-time)
  • Entering with a greater variety of qualifications than full-time students.

The Report concludes that:

  • there needs to be an erosion of the binary divide between full-time and part-time – the reality is that many apparently full-time students are in fact studying less intensively than part-timers.
  • It might help also if there were a common funding model that does not distinguish between part-time and full-time study, although recent evidence about the impact of fees and loans on part-time students may complicate such an approach.
  • It is important too that services, such as UCAS, do not discriminate between modes of study.

A copy of HEPI Report (60) Flexible Learning: Wrapping Higher Education Around the Needs Of Part-Time Students is available for download here.