Students shun part-time higher education as costs soar

Part-time students in the UK are shunning higher education because of the costs they face, says a new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute.

Demand has dropped significantly despite the fact that some part-time students now qualify for access to loans on a similar basis to full-time students, according to the report.

Government estimates were that around 175,000 part-time students would be eligible for loans to cover their tuition fees, out of a total part-time undergraduate population of about 459,000 in 2011-12.

“Despite this, the impact of the increased fees on part-time students and the universities that provide for them appears to have been significant, with a reduction of one third in just one year,” says the report by Professor David Maguire, vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich.

It appears that only 32,000 eligible part-time students have applied for loans. Although part-timers may qualify for bursaries and scholarships, they are not able to access loans to cover their living costs while studying.

“The new student financing arrangements increase the cost to part-time students, but give a minority access to student loans.

“The net effect is that, for most, and purely from a cost perspective, part-time study is likely to be much more unattractive than it was previously. And so it has proved, with part-time numbers sharply down in 2012-13.”

Recent data from the Higher Education Funding Council for England shows only 154,000 new part-time students in 2012-13 – 33% fewer than in 2011-12.

Between 2005-06 and 2010-11 there was a general decline in the number of part-time undergraduate students, from 671,501 to 565,607, in contrast to a 15.5% increase in full-time numbers over the same period.

The report says: “The present reality appears to be that current policies are having a serious and negative impact on part-time demand.”

Since 2012-13, English universities have been able to charge annual tuition fees of up to £9,000 (US$13,600), resulting in increases for both part-time and full-time students of around 2.5 times the 2011-12 level.

Students beginning a part-time high intensity (25% or more of a full-time equivalent) course do not have to pay tuition fees up front and can instead apply for a tuition loan of up to £6,750 a year.

But Maguire concludes: “Not only is it likely that large numbers of part-time students have been put off study by the cost, but also the measure that the government put in place in the hope of offsetting the potentially off-putting impact of the cost increase has not been effective.”

Extending fee loans to all part-timers would cost £0.7 billion a year, while providing maintenance loans to all part-time students would cost around a further £0.6 billion per year.

Two-thirds of part-time students have family commitments and over two in five have children - the majority of full-time students are single and childless.

The report also finds that part-time students tend to be older, with around 80% over 25 on entry compared to around 20% over 25 for full-time. A higher proportion are female – 61% compared to 54% of full-time – and live in the same region where they are studying: 80% of part-time students study in the same region as they are domiciled.