The Open University has welcomed a House of Lords report that once again underlines the impact of UK Government reforms on part-time higher education in England.
The Lords Economic Affairs Committee called for a series of measures to help encourage part-time study – which has fallen by 59 per cent in England since the 2012 student funding reforms.
Short-sighted neglect of part-time and mature students
In its report, Treating Students Fairly: The Economics of Post-School Education, the committee said: “Part-time study and adult learning have declined dramatically. A decline linked to reforms which aimed to increase participation in higher education. This neglect of part-time and mature students is short-sighted: flexible learning is important for mature students looking to learn new skills to adapt to changes in the labour market and working practices.”
The committee made a number of recommendations to help re-balance the system and tackle the decline in part-time HE, including:
- Financial incentives to encourage and support people to study for HE qualifications other than undergraduate degrees, including through part-time study.
- Opening up fee loans and maintenance support – including maintenance grants – to all students studying for Level 4 certificates and above.
- Providing direct teaching funding for FE colleges and other HE providers offering part-time courses and modules at Level 4 certificates and Level 5 diplomas and foundation degrees.
- A robust and properly enforced credit-based system that helps students study more flexibly and makes it easier to progress from sub-degree qualifications to full degrees.
Part-time education can close skills gap
The Open University has been calling for the UK Government to introduce a Flexible Learning Incentive to help mature students to return to study.
Mary Kellett, Acting Vice-Chancellor of the OU, said: “The committee rightly identifies as short-sighted the failure to tackle the alarming fall in the numbers of students in England choosing part-time study.
“It is imperative that the UK Government puts right this failure in its post-18 review of student finances. At a time of growing pressures in the labour market, part-time higher education holds the key to closing the skills gap which is hampering productivity.
“As a country we need to make it easier to help the generation of people who want to learn while they earn, to improve not just their life chances but also to bolster the economy.”
The Open University is gathering growing support for its calls to make the funding system fairer to all students, not just those who choose to study full-time at 18.