HEFCE figures confirm slump in part-time HE recruitment

14 March 2013

A new report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), published today, confirms the extent of the slump in part-time recruitment to higher education. Its figures show a 40% drop in national part-time undergraduate numbers in England since 2010, confirming anecdotal reports of falls of between 30 and 50% from institutions across the sector.

The statistics from HEFCE confirm the analysis offered by contributors to NIACE’s Adults Learning Extra – published in February – on the emerging crisis in adult demand for higher education.

The picture is even more concerning given the steep drop in full-time mature recruitment. UCAS’s end-of-cycle data for 2012 shows that between 2010 and 2012 acceptances to English institutions fell by 12.1% for people aged between 21 and 24, by 12.3% for people aged between 24 and 39, and by 10.2% for people over 40.

The figures from HEFCE show a fall of 27% in part-time postgraduate numbers since 2010. The report also suggests that institutions are withdrawing from short courses. NIACE hopes HEFCE’s report will prompt urgent and concerted action from government and the sector to boost adult recruitment to higher education.

Paul Stanistreet, NIACE’s policy lead on higher education, said:

“The dramatic slump in part-time figures is of particular concern to NIACE as the vast majority of part-time students are mature, with disproportionately high numbers from less advantaged and non-traditional backgrounds.

“The overall decline in adult recruitment to higher education is bad news for social mobility, for the economy and for the health and diversity of our democracy. It makes no sense in a society with an ageing population and a desperate need to provide opportunities for all of its population to retrain, reskill and rethink at critical moments throughout their lives.

“It is clear now that despite the ground-breaking extension of tuition fee loan eligibility to part-time students the decline of part-time higher study has not been arrested, but is in fact gathering pace. The government needs to look carefully at the impact the rise in part-time fees has had on recruitment and think again about the quality of adult guidance and how it communicates its message to mature and part-time students.

“Above all, we need firm commitment, from government and the higher education sector, to tackle this issue – and a real plan to increase the number of adults participating in higher education. NIACE would like to see government working with sector leaders in developing an action plan to address the fall in part-time and mature admissions, including considering changes to the ELQ policy which prevents many adults from accessing the loans’ support.”