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Unheard: the voices of part-time adult learners

  • 6 February 2020
  • By John Butcher
  • HEPI number 124

In this paper, John Butcher challenges policymakers and the English higher education sector to act urgently to address the decline in part-time higher education. Although the drop in part-time student numbers has been well-reported in a series of quantitative studies, the problem persists. The dramatic reduction in part-time learners disproportionately affects those disadvantaged adults with characteristics associated with widening participation.

This paper takes a different approach to the issue, drawing on qualitative data from interviews conducted with part-time learners to construct the story of the barriers, voiced in their own words. Their perspectives demonstrate the loss of transformative learning possibilities for adults who missed out at 18, and a loss of diversity in the student body.

Recommendations include: a call for universities and national policies to become more part-time student aware; a push for institutions to adopt far more flexible systems to meet part time learner needs; and a plea for greater inclusivity in policy assumptions around students.

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