Supply-side slump linked to part-time losses

Hepi: scrapped courses undermine widening participation

October 3, 2013

The closure of hundreds of university courses is likely to have contributed to a dramatic slump in the number of part-time students, a study has indicated.

While last year’s rise in tuition fees may partly explain the 33 per cent fall in part-time student entrants in England in 2012-13, the existence of fewer part-time courses over recent years has also played a role, according to a study by the Higher Education Policy Institute.

It is the demise of part-time provision within the Russell Group, where demand for courses should be strong, that suggests that much of the fall in numbers may be caused by supply-side problems, according to The Impact on Demand of the Government’s Reforms of Higher Education, published on 3 October.

Only about 600 home part-time students were registered on degree courses at Russell Group universities in 2012-13 – almost a 50 per cent decline from the previous year, the report says.

“Given the importance of part-time provision to disadvantaged students, the withdrawal of part-time undergraduate courses seriously undermines the contribution of Russell Group institutions to widening participation,” the report says.

As part-time students are less inclined to move around the country to study, they may struggle to find alternative courses if nearby provision is shut down, adds The Impact on Demand.

As a result, the closure of so many part-time courses may mean that thousands of potential students have lost the chance to enter higher education.

However, the report also says that the fall in student numbers at some of the UK sector’s biggest part-time providers may prove to be only temporary.

The decline in the number of entrants studying for first-time degrees at The Open University and Birkbeck, University of London may have been caused by exceptional demand in 2011-12, as applicants brought forward their study plans to avoid paying higher fees.

Overall, the report is uncertain about the impact of higher fees on demand for part-time courses, which can be affected by various demographic, educational and economic factors.

But it concludes that last year’s “provision of loans to a minority of part-time students has not been sufficient to stop the continuing decrease in the numbers of part-time entrants”.

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