24 January 2018

Part-time undergraduate provision in crisis

In a new article investigating part-time education, Professor Claire Callender argues that part-time study is in crisis, with student numbers falling as fees rise.

Professor Callender highlights the fact that since 2010/11, the number of part-time students starting an undergraduate qualification at an English university has fallen by 61 per cent, to just 100,000 students.

She argues that part-time study can achieve greater social equity by helping individuals escape from low pay and low productivity and by widening higher education participation. Yet UK policymakers often focus on initial education and training rather than the needs of adult learners.

Professor Callender attributes the decline in part-time numbers to the ‘market failure’ of the 2012/13 student funding reforms. The huge hikes in tuition fees over recent years has meant that for many, part-time study is now unaffordable. The restrictive eligibility criteria of government-funded loans – coupled with terms and conditions perceived as unattractive – has not helped the situation.

In addition, universities have no financial incentive to provide more costly and risky part-time courses, especially when, with the lifting of the cap on student numbers, they can fill all their places with full-time students.

Professor Callender argues that drastic action is needed to widen participation and concludes that there is a need for the political will to confront the challenges part-time study poses.