Sharp fall in part-time higher education linked to economic factors and public policy changes

29 Apr 2014 11:55 AM

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) today publishes a new report, ‘Pressure from all sides: Economic and policy influences on part-time higher education’ [Note 1]. It shows that the sharp decline in part-time study since 2010-11 in publicly-funded higher education is likely to have been influenced by the recession, its aftermath, and public policy changes.

Numbers of part-time UK and EU undergraduate entrant numbers in 2013-14 are almost half what they were in 2010-11. Overall numbers fell by 120,000 – from 259,000 in 2010-11 to 139,000 in 2013-14.

The report links the decline to a number of economic factors which, combined with public policy changes, have exerted continuous downward pressure on demand for part-time courses over the past five years.

Funding for people studying for qualifications equivalent or lower to one they already have (ELQs) was withdrawn at the start of the recession in 2008-09. This was followed by the austerity measures in on the public sector. Previous research shows that the majority of part-time students work in the public sector, and are likely to have been affected by these reductions. Changes to financial support for undergraduate part-time study in 2012-13 also led to increases in undergraduate part-time fees, although less than a third of part-time students are estimated as eligible for fee loans [Note 3].

Factors affecting the decline in part-time higher education between 2008-09 and 2012-13

Other findings include:

 HEFCE Chief Executive Madeleine Atkins said:

‘There have been major declines in part-time higher education in recent years. However, trying to return to where we were in 2008 will not give us what we need in future – the economy, technologies and the wider world have changed. HEFCE will continue to support a higher education system characterised by quality and diversity, which helps equip students and employers to address the challenges and opportunities that face them.’