Continuum study to press for solutions to part-time slump

Sector’s report on decline failed to provide answers, says UEL centre’s director John Storan

November 28, 2013

A government-funded study on the dramatic decline of part-time higher education will aim to redress perceived failings of the sector’s own report on the problem, one of its authors has said.

John Storan, director of Continuum, the Centre for Widening Participation Policy Studies at the University of East London, said a previous study into the issue by Universities UK had been “short on answers”. From 2010-11 to 2012-13 there was a 37 per cent drop in the number of part-time students.

The UUK report released in October warned that this fall was set to continue and called for an “urgent” push to promote part-time study.

But The Power of Part-time: Review of Part-time and Mature Higher Education, led by Sir Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, stopped short of calling for an end to the equivalent or lower qualifications rule, which in 2008-09 ended funding for students taking second degrees.

Speaking at the Association of Colleges (AoC) annual conference in Birmingham on 20 November, Professor Storan said the report had been “great on analysis but short on answers”. “It stopped short of the…‘OK, what might we do about it’ questions,” he said. “That’s the bit that we want to try to pick up around, particularly from a college perspective.”

The new study, jointly funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the AoC, will look specifically at part-time higher education in further education colleges. Announced in June, the project is set to take two years and is being carried out by Continuum.

If full-time higher education had suffered a similar decline it would be considered a “national disaster zone”, Professor Storan said. “The fact that we’re not having that kind of debate says something about the standing and perception of part-time higher education,” he added.

He warned that the contraction of part-time higher education was not merely a blip that had occurred in the past two years. “You can go back five, six, seven years and you can see this [decline],” he said. “So that might suggest that we’re not at the bottom of a trough yet.”

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