The vice-chancellor of the Open University has called on the government to tackle the collapse in part-time study after a survey of MPs found widespread concern about the issue.
In a poll of 103 parliamentarians conducted by ComRes on behalf of the OU, 73 per cent said that they were concerned by the sharp decline in the number of students in part-time higher education.
There were almost 200,000 fewer students enrolled on part-time courses last year compared with 2009-10, a drop of 41 per cent, the OU said.
The OU has been caught in the eye of the storm, losing more than a quarter of its total student numbers over the same period.
Peter Horrocks, the OU’s vice-chancellor, is due to tell an event at the Houses of Parliament today that the government needs to take action to address the decline.
Mr Horrocks will say that one key action would be to reverse the decision, which came into effect in 2008-09, that prevents students accessing loans if they are studying for a qualification that is equivalent to or lower than one they already hold.
Of the MPs who responded to the ComRes survey, 61 per cent agreed that this so-called ELQ (equivalent or lower-level qualifications) rule should be repealed.
“This government has talked much about supporting those who work hard. Right now there is a golden opportunity for ministers to deliver on this by realising the kind of social and economic benefits part-time study creates,” Mr Horrocks will say. “While it is encouraging to see MPs sharing our concern over the challenges facing our sector, now is the time to turn this into action.
“I look forward to working with the government and across the sector to identify cost-effective ways more hard-working people can access the rewards part-time study can offer.”
Mr Horrocks joined the OU at the start of May, having previously been director of the BBC World Service.