Put part-time study at the heart of policy, says UUK review

Report warns of ‘market failure’ but critics say it doesn’t go far enough

October 17, 2013

A Universities UK report on part-time study warns of the potential for “market failure” under England’s £9,000 fee regime, recommending that such provision be intrinsic to higher education policy instead of an “add-on”.

However, some in the sector have warned that the report “doesn’t bite the bullet” on key issues such as funding for second degrees or part-time students’ particular price sensitivity to fees.

The review, chaired by Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, was commissioned by the government in response to the 40 per cent fall in part-time undergraduate numbers in England since 2010-11, equivalent to a 105,000 drop. Numbers in Scotland and Wales have also declined, but to a lesser extent.

The UK economy “relies heavily on part-time higher education to up-skill the working population” and such study “cannot be ignored if we want economic growth”, says the report, published on 16 October and titled The Power of Part-time: Review of Part-time and Mature Higher Education.

It finds that a “perfect storm” of factors is behind the drop in numbers. The factors include the bleak economic situation restricting employer support for further study while putting pressure on household budgets, plus the advent of £9,000 fees. There are “strong concerns that part-time higher education is an example of market failure under the new funding regime in England”, the report warns.

It recommends that higher education institutions, the government and the funding councils “consider the needs of part-time and mature students as an intrinsic part of their thinking, not as an add-on”.

On the equivalent or lower-level qualification (ELQ) bar – the rule introduced in 2008 stopping students from accessing loan funding for such degrees – the report says it has been “frequently cited” by respondents to the review “as a barrier for part-time learners wishing to re-skill”.

However, the recommendations state only that the government’s recent removal of the ELQ bar in engineering and computer technology be “monitored carefully”.

The report also calls for an investigation of whether any further lifting of the bar would lead to the unwelcome introduction of student number controls for part-timers.

David Latchman, master of Birkbeck, University of London, said the report was positive “in terms of identifying the problems”.

But he added that the ELQ bar – which he would like to see abolished for vocational subjects at least – was “one issue of several where the report basically says we should investigate things further. Clearly our view is things should be done.”

Professor Latchman said that the report “doesn’t necessarily bite the bullet and say the government should do X, Y and Z”.

Andy Westwood, chief executive of GuildHE, said: “It’s not just about telling a more convincing story of the benefits of higher education, extending loans or rolling back regulations on ELQs – we need to see part-time as a priority, with close attention to costing, pricing and course design, as well as the factors…driving down demand in a weak labour market.”


You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Reader in Politics and Policy

St Marys University, Twickenham



Professor of Anthropology

Maynooth University

Preceptor in Statistics

Harvard University

Postdoctoral Fellowship in Electrochemistry

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu
See all jobs

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework