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Birkbeck and Sutton Trust report shows part-time learning in England under threat

Professor Claire Callender’s co-authored report for the Sutton Trust shows how tuition fee increases in 2012 caused a decline in part-time undergraduate higher education study in England.

Birkbeck, University of London where Professor Claire Callender's co-authored report shows the tuition fee rise in 2012 led to a decline in part-time study.

Major funding reforms in higher education have led to a huge decline in part-time learners in England, with the number of entrants falling by more than half in five years, according to a new report by Birkbeck, University of London and educational charity Sutton Trust.

Claire Callender, Professor of Higher Education at Birkbeck and UCL, Institute of Education co-authored The Lost Part-timers with independent policy analyst John Thompson, which shows increases in tuition fees for part-time study and the introduction of loans contributed to a fall in student numbers from 216,000 in 2010 to just 106,000 in 2015.

The report was commissioned by the Sutton Trust and suggests that although recent trends show the number of part-time students would have declined even without fee hikes, if the numbers in England had followed the same pattern as Wales (where institutions were unaffected by the tuition fee increases), there would have been 149,000 part-time students in England, instead of the 106,000.

Professor Callender said: “Our research clearly shows that the 2012 reforms of student funding, designed to stem the long-term decline in part-time study, have had the opposite effect.”

“Tuition fee loans for part-timers were meant to mitigate any negative effect on access resulting from rising tuition fees. They have not, and more loans will not reverse the decline.”

The report raises concerns about the social consequences of the declining number of mature and part-time students. Part-time courses can provide a way into higher education for those who haven’t followed the traditional route from school and for those whose work or family responsibilities make full-time study impractical, but this is in jeopardy.

In light of the findings, the Sutton Trust has called for the costs of tuition to be tackled by enabling students eligible for the new part-time maintenance loan to instead take out a tuition fee grant for the first two years of their course. The charity claims this could be done at virtually no additional unit cost to the taxpayer.

Professor David Latchman CBE, Master of Birkbeck said: “We welcome the Sutton Trust’s focus on part-time students in this timely report. In particular, its emphasis that higher tuition fees unlike for younger, full-time students has not worked for part-time students.

“This expert analysis serves as a clarion call to tackle the part-time crisis and we hope the Government review on Post-18 funding takes this important report into account,” he added.

Founder of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “The Review of Post-18 Education should acknowledge there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to student finance, and recognise that the mature and part-time sector requires tailored solutions.

“Opportunities to get on in life should not be restricted to a one-off decision at age 18.  Genuine social mobility would empower all those in society to gain the skills they need to succeed, regardless of age or background; part-time and mature education is key to this.”

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