New reports from MillionPlus and the Sutton Trust put the spotlight firmly on the decline in part-time student numbers.
Both reports follow on from OU Vice-Chancellor, Peter Horrocks’ recent interventions in the campaign, which helped lead to part-time and distance learning teaching being part of the Post-18 Review in England.
Commenting at the publication of the reports, Peter Horrocks said:
Funding changes in 2012 provoked a crisis in part-time Higher Education in England, with students from disadvantaged backgrounds hit particularly hard. The UK Government has the chance to reverse the catastrophic decline in the number of part-time students in its forthcoming review of funding.
In the past decade, and particularly since funding changes came into place in 2012, the number of part-time students has decreased dramatically.
The reports are calling for a fresh approach to boost flexible opportunities for mature and part-time leaners.
Both reports conclude that the focus of policymakers remains firmly fixed in the "traditional" school leavers, while mature and part-time learners become the forgotten/lost learners of higher education.
On the decline in part-time numbers, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, Peter Horrocks says:
“This is a serious threat to future UK productivity. The only way we will fill labour market vacancies over the next two to three decades is to retrain people already in the workforce. For many of these, the only viable option is part-time study, allowing them to learn while they earn.”
OU data used
‘Forgotten Learners: building a system that works for mature students’ by MillionPlus, recommends a review of maintenance support for those most in need and the reintroduction of maintenance grants. The inception of Office for Students and the Post-18 Review, they claim, “is an opportunity to boost activities that engage with and support mature learners”.
The Lost Learners by The Sutton Trust, shows that the funding reforms in 2012 have caused the part-time decline of undergraduate students to increase. Authored by Claire Callender and John Thompson, OU data was used to demonstrate that the biggest decline in part-time numbers has been in England, and therefore as a direct consequence of the 2012 fees and funding changes.
Increasing focus on part-time students
The Sutton Trust recommend that students who are eligible for the new part-time maintenance loan could take out a tuition fee grant for the first two years of their course instead of having to take out a maintenance loan.
This increasing focus on part-time students comes at this crucial time for the sector. The OU is advocating that the Post-18 Review must recommend a part-time premium, to reduce the costs of studying part-time (as argued in the Vice-Chancellor’s ‘Fixing the broken market’ report.)
The Sutton Trust is a foundation which focuses on social mobility in the UK through evidence-based programmes, research and policy advocacy.
They are concerned with breaking the link between educational opportunities and family background, so that young people are given the chance to fulfil their potential, regardless of their family background, school or where they live.
MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities in the UK, champion, promote and raise awareness of the role played by modern universities in the UK.