Why part-time higher education matters

25 February 2013

A special issue of Adults Learning, exploring the crisis in demand for mature and part-time higher education, has been published by NIACE. Despite the extension of eligibility to tuition fee loans to part-time students in 2012, part-time enrolments have gone into free fall, with full-time, mature student numbers also in steep decline.

This Adults Learning Extra gives some of the leading commentators and key stakeholders in the sector, an opportunity to publicly debate an issue of growing concern, to set out the major challenges the sector faces and to consider how to move forwards towards a solution.

The journal poses a critical challenge to government and institutions: to better understand the barriers to mature and part-time access to higher education and to consider how they can better persuade, encourage and incentivise adults to participate.

David Hughes, NIACE Chief Executive, said:

“The reduction in adult participation in higher education makes no sense economically, because we have an ageing population with people working longer before they retire, and it makes no sense in terms of business efficiencies, because people need to keep their skills up to date as the world changes.

A reduction in opportunities for people to participate in higher education flexibly throughout their careers is also not right for achieving the social mobility which the coalition is aiming for. It is inconceivable that enough young people will be able to participate in higher education immediately after their compulsory education finishes to achieve true social mobility.”

Paul Stanistreet, NIACE’s Policy Lead for Higher Education, added:

“The outdated notion of universities as finishing schools for 18 and 19 year olds treading the well-worn path from school to full-time residential study needs to change. We hope this special edition will both raise the profile of the issue and prompt ministers and institutions to think carefully about how to reverse what is an increasingly troubling picture of falling adult demand for HE.

We think it matters that mature and part-time student numbers are in decline and that the higher education system is becoming a less age-diverse and less adult-friendly place. Failure to reverse this decline will mean the further disintegration of a framework that took many decades to build up – and which will take many more to rebuild from scratch.”

Contributors to this issue of Adults Learning Extra, include:

Claire Callender – Professor of Higher Education, Birkbeck and Institute of Education, University of London

Andy Westwood – Chief Executive of Guild FE, the representative body for small and specialist institutions in UK higher education

Mary Stuart – Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lincoln

Aaron Porter – higher education consultant and former President of the National Union of Students

Rajay Naik – Director of Government and External Affairs, Open University

John Widdowson – Principal of New Durham College and Chair of the Mixed Economy Group

Suzanne Hallam – Director of Student Education, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds

Rachel Wenstone – Vice-President (Higher Education), National Union of Students

Tricia King – Pro-Vice-Master, Student Experience, Birkbeck, University of London

Tessa Stone – Chief Executive of Brightside and Chair of the Bridge Group

Geoff Layer – Vice-Chancellor, University of Wolverhampton

Sally Hunt – General Secretary of the University and College Union

Pam Tatlow – Chief Executive of the university think tank Million+

Mike Neary – professor of teaching and learning and a founder member of the Social Science Centre, Lincoln

Bill Jones – Honorary Professor of Lifelong Learning at the University of Leicester and an executive member of UALL

Andrew Rawson and John Storan – co-directors of Action on Access

Tony Ellender – Emerging Talent Development Manager, Balfour Beatty Construction Services UK

Libby Hackett – Chief Executive of University Alliance

David Hughes  – Chief Executive of NIACE