A think tank has claimed that the sharp decrease in the number of part-time students at universities in England is having a negative impact on the economy, as well as limiting social mobility.
According to the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), changes made to student funding from 2012 onwards, and inflexible course structures, are the reason for a large fall in numbers.
There were 258,885 part-time students in 2010/11, but in 2014/15 there were only 116,025, representing a drop of more than 50 per cent.
Funding is a big concern for part-time students, because although the government does offer loans to support part-time students, they need to meet eligibility criteria in order to receive these loans.
Students must: study for at least 25 per cent of a full-time course, be doing a course for a specified qualification (rather than individual modules), and be looking to gain a qualification that is better than the qualification they already hold.
This last point means that if a student already holds a Bachelor’s degree, they cannot receive a loan to pay for another Bachelor’s degree, as they do not receive a loan for qualifications that are equivalent or worse than what they already hold.
HEPI said that as a result of this criteria, two thirds of people who would study part-time do not do so as they don’t qualify for new loans, usually because they have a degree already.
Often, part-time students also have to deal with extra costs such as a mortgage or having children, which, when added to the higher up-front costs they must pay (from their own pocket), makes it very unappealing to become a part-time student.
“If we succeed in reversing the decline in part-time study, the benefits to employers in terms of improved productivity and to the economy in terms of faster growth will be substantial,” said Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, who classed the decrease in part-time students as “arguably the single biggest problem facing higher education at the moment.”