UUK: Part-time study could grow

University funding proposals by Lord Browne to provide the same financial support for part-time students would enable this mode of study to grow according to a report launched today by UUK.

An independent review of higher education funding in England - led by Lord Browne, the former head of BP - recommended earlier this month that part-time students should have the same support for the cost of learning as full-time students.

The 40 per cent of students who currently study part-time are required to pay their fees up front unless they can secure a contribution from their employer - unlike full-time undergraduates who are eligible for government-funded loans to pay for their fees once they graduate.

With unprecedented demand for full-time university courses and a changing labour market, it has been envisaged that students in the workforce are more likely to want to study part-time or have an interest in more flexible degrees. However, since 2006/07, the growth in the number of part-time students has weakened.

The study finds that:

  • The current funding model financially disadvantages institutions providing part-time courses and fails adequately to cover the additional costs and risks associated with delivering part-time courses.
  • If tuition fees for full-time students are increased following the proposals by Lord Browne, universities will be under even more pressure to raise the fees that they charge part-timers which at the moment students have to pay up-front.
  • Just 10 per cent of all part-time students currently get any government funded financial support toward their tuition fees and the costs of study. If Browne's proposals are introduced, the proportion of part-time students qualifying for government funded student loans would increase substantially.
  • Only a third get their fees paid in full by their employer. Employers are very selective in terms of which employees they are willing to help out - favouring those least in need of financial support.
  • A fall in demand for part-time courses was associated with financial constraints, the current economic crisis, and changes in government policies, especially the government's decision to phase out funding, from 2008/09, for students who are studying for qualifications that are equivalent to or lower than qualifications they already hold (ELQs).
  • In the UK, 39 per cent of all higher education enrolments in 2007/08 were part-timers. Compared to full-time students, part-timers are typically older, more likely to be female and more likely to hold vocational qualifications or general education qualifications below A-level on entering higher education courses.

The report, written for Universities UK by Professor Claire Callender of Birkbeck and the Institute of Education, University of London and her colleagues Anne Jamieson from Birkbeck and Geoff Mason from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, makes clear that the current system of student financial support favours full-time students at the expense of part-time students.

Co-author of the report, Professor Claire Callender, said: "If Lord Browne's proposals are implemented, part-time study could become a viable alternative to studying full-time. The clear message from this research is that this element of student funding has to be reformed.

"The previous government highlighted the importance of part-time provision and the need for more flexible learning opportunities, both to widen participation and to meet the changing needs of students and employers. If the coalition government accepts this part of Lord Browne's proposals, there is scope for part-time study to grow to help meet the growing demand for higher education."

Professor Steve Smith, President of Universities UK, said: "Universities UK was pleased with Lord Browne's recommendation that loans for tuition should be expanded to part-time students, so that higher education is free at the point of entry for these students as well.

"We recommended to Lord Browne that some or all of the financial support available to full-time undergraduate students should be extended to those studying part-time. Part-time students will have a vital role to play in meeting the skills needs of the economy over the coming years, so it's essential they receive adequate support."


1. The report - 'The supply of part-time higher education in the UK' - explores the supply of part-time higher education in the UK, with particular consideration to the study of part-time undergraduate provision in England. It is available to download at: http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/Publications/Documents/TheSupplyOfPartTimeHigherEducationInTheUK20100929.pdf

2. The report will be launched at a Universities UK conference - Part-time Study in Higher Education: A new deal for part-time and distance students? - taking place at Inmarsat Conference Centre, London, EC1 on Tuesday 26 October 2010. Journalists interested in attending the conference should contact the Universities UK press office on 0207 419 5407 or pressunit@universitiesuk.ac.uk

For more information about the conference, visit: http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/Events/Pages/Part-timeConference2010.aspx

3. The study was commissioned by Universities UK and was undertaken by Professor Claire Callender and Anne Jamieson of Birkbeck, University of London and Geoff Mason of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

4. Research by Universities UK (published in 2008) into the future size and shape of the higher education sector suggested that in the next 20 years, part-time undergraduate enrolments will increase at a much faster rate than full-time enrolments to help meet the growing skills needs of the economy. For more information, visit: http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/Newsroom/Media-Releases/Pages/Report-assesses-impact-of-demographic-changes-for-universities.aspx

5. Professor Steve Smith is President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter. Universities UK (UUK) is the representative organisation for the UK's universities. Founded in 1918, its mission is to be the definitive voice for all universities in the UK, providing high quality leadership and support to its members to promote a successful and diverse higher education sector. With 133 members and offices in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh, it promotes the strength and success of UK universities nationally and internationally. Visit: www.universitiesuk.ac.uk

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