More needs to be done for mature and part-time students

22 January 2013

NIACE welcomes the emphasis on improving the student experience and ensuring that student choice is informed by better public information, in the annual grant letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

However, while there is positive, if overdue, recognition of the need ‘to understand better the HE experience of part-time and mature students’, NIACE would like to see the decline in mature and part-time student numbers addressed as a priority. It is disappointing to see this issue – so critical in terms of both social mobility and economic growth (both picked out as priorities in the letter) – effectively left on the sidelines.

The grant letter, signed by Secretary of State Vince Cable and Universities Minister David Willetts, confirms that the overall number of funded places will remain the same and that the government is lowering the threshold at which universities can offer unrestricted places from AAB to ABB from 2013-14. It also allows institutions to over-recruit students with lower grades by up to 3% without incurring a financial penalty, a useful flexibility institutions will welcome.

The letter confirms that widening access to higher education remains a strategic priority for government and calls for an injection of ‘pace and rigour’ in the progress of widening access. This is certainly welcome. NIACE, however, remains concerned that little will come of these good intentions if the crisis in recruitment of mature and part-time students continues to be overlooked.

Dr Paul Stanistreet, NIACE’s policy lead on HE, said:

“It is good to see the emphasis on student information and improving the student experience, but it is concerning that so far government efforts to communicate the new fees and loan regime have focused so overwhelmingly on 18 and 19 year olds, where demand has remained relatively stable.

The biggest losers under the new system so far have been mature and part-time students. It is vital that government and institutions do more to communicate the real costs and benefits of higher education, and the types of support available, to this group of learners who very often are having to make sense of a confusing welter of information without any sort of institution guidance or support.”