Offering courses without credit has helped a university to grow its part-time student numbers while other institutions suffered sharp declines in recruitment.
Bill Richardson, manager for enterprise and continuing professional development programmes at City University London, believes that the decision to remove institutional credit for its evening and weekend courses in 2010 has played a key role in increasing part-time student numbers, which have almost halved nationally over the past three years.
That change was made after City reviewed its part-time provision, prompted by the government’s decision to withdraw funding for students taking equivalent or lower-level qualifications (ELQ).
That policy change in 2009-09 led to a fall in part-time student numbers at institutions across the UK – a trend accelerated when tuition fees increased in autumn 2012 after most teaching grants were axed.
But the number of people taking short courses at City has grown by 20 per cent each year since 2010, with some 4,500 taking programmes this year, Mr Richardson said.
Very few students had noticed that short courses were no longer credited, but the move allowed more flexibility in setting up new classes or expanding others, he said. “Many students did not want accreditation – it was only something they found out about when they enrolled.”
Students received a certificate on completion of their work, and many used short courses as a stepping stone to longer ones, he said.
Moving short course provision away from individual departments to a dedicated unit had also helped City to be more flexible and responsive to demand, Mr Richardson said.
“We used to run one evening class a week for event management, but we now run three because the demand was there. We’ve done similar things with project management and digital marketing courses.”
Mr Richardson said that other universities could enjoy similar success in recruiting part-time students as there were several still untapped short-course markets. “If we run a computer course on a Friday evening, it is generally full – it’s the right time for that particular audience,” he said.