Widespread interest in bite-sized study among UK job-seekers

Polling shows appetite for modular learning among unemployed, those at risk of job losses, and those wanting to upskill

October 21, 2020
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Polling for Universities UK (UUK) has found that 82 per cent of people who are unemployed, at risk of unemployment or looking to learn new skills and interested in university would be keen to study on an individual modular basis.

Two-thirds of those surveyed say that if the government introduced loans to study individual modules, they would be more likely to undertake university study, according to the polling by Savanta ComRes.

Last month, Boris Johnson pledged to create a Lifetime Skills Guarantee giving individuals flexible loan funding for four years of post-18 education, allowing people to break study into shorter segments.

At present, student loan eligibility rules require students to be studying for a full qualification and to be studying at 25 per cent or more of full-time course intensity. However, the government, which is keen to prioritise further education, is yet to confirm any eligibility details for the new loans scheme.

The polling for UUK surveyed 1,591 people, 106 of whom were unemployed, 502 at risk of unemployment and 1,089 wanting to upskill or reskill.

“Modular study generates an interest amongst an overwhelming majority (82 per cent) of prospective students,” says the polling report. “Four in five of those who are interested in university study are interested in modular study.”

Engineering was the second most popular subject choice for modular study among respondents, behind business management, followed by key public sector professions (18 per cent were interested in teaching and 16 per cent in nursing/allied healthcare).

Meanwhile, 13 per cent of those who are interested in university education say they are not likely to study part-time but are interested in modular study.

Over one-third of those unlikely to undertake modular study even if loans were introduced were concerned about repayment.

And 93 per cent of those likely to undertake modular study if loans were introduced said this is important, which UUK said showed “the importance of flexibility and pathways”.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “With one million more job losses forecast by the end of the year, it is more important than ever to boost people’s skills and maximise their job prospects in a flexible way.

“The government should change the eligibility criteria for financial support for higher education to allow more people to benefit from access to shorter courses, and it should make information about the student finance system more accessible.

“The recent announcement of a Lifetime Skills Guarantee is welcome, but it is not yet clear how much flexibility will be built into the system at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

“Providing more people with the opportunity to upskill and retrain will be crucial to meeting the country’s skills needs, rebuilding the economy and levelling up.”

The call from UUK forms part of its wider A Vision for Universities, also published on 21 October, outlining a “proposed package of ambitious reforms to enhance universities’ contribution to the nation’s well-being, economy and communities”.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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