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Higher tuition fees for part-time students threaten skills gains of combining work and study

Part-time students gain skills before they graduate, but employers are less likely to pay higher tuition fees

Part-time undergraduate students gain skills that benefit businesses well before they graduate, but employers are less likely to pay increased tuition fees, which may restrict future participation – says a new report co-written by Birkbeck's Professor Claire Callender and released today by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU).

Advantages of part-time study

According to Futuretrack: Part-time Students, 69 per cent of students said their part-time undergraduate course had improved their confidence at work. The same number claimed their job performance had improved, half said they were taking on more responsibilities and 66 per cent reported that they had used what they had learned in their jobs. Professor Callender, of Birkbeck's Department of Psychosocial Studies within the School of Sciences, History and Philosophy, was one of the two authors of the report.

The benefits of part-time study have also been recognised by employers with 29 per cent of students being awarded a pay increase, and 28 per cent receiving a promotion. Other reported advantages of part-time study include improvements to personal development (81 per cent) and self-confidence (70 per cent) as well as greater levels of happiness (55 per cent).

Tuition fees

Tuition fees rose by 27 per cent between 2007-8 and 2010-11 – far in excess of inflation at 4.4 per cent. In 2010/11, average tuition fees were £1,467 a year and an additional £483 was spent on books, IT, travel etc. Both students and employers shared the costs of these fee increases, despite the recession. However, 27 per cent of students reported their employer paying their full fees in 2007-8 and this fell to 21 per cent for 2010-11.

Jane Artess, director of research at HECSU, commissioned the report. She said: “This study confirms the importance of part-time study and demonstrates its positive effects for employers and employees as well as the wider economy – felt even before students graduate. It also highlights that the implications for people providing careers guidance to students during this uncertainty could be dramatic.

“Part-time study is a very efficient way of raising and updating the skills of the existing workforce. It’s essential that we continue to invest in developing employees to benefit the economy. Higher education policies need to support this rather than undermine it. The new availability of loans for part time students is to be welcomed.”

On behalf of HECSU and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Claire Callender, Professor of Higher Education Policy, at Birkbeck and the Institute of Education, both Colleges of the University of London, conducted the research with David Wilkinson, of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

Professor Callender said: “Part-time students surveyed look to their employer to provide careers information, advice and guidance and are generally satisfied with their careers. But we are concerned that some employers will not be able to continue to fund part-time study in the future and that this might restrict opportunities, particularly for students who want to re-skill or update their skills.”

Wilkinson added: “Part-time study contributes to quantifiable changes such as job moves, higher salaries, and promotion. It also leads to less tangible, qualitative changes to individuals’ working lives, which are felt by both those who do, and do not, change employer or job.”

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