Fear in the System: Falling Numbers of Part-time UK Students

Worrying news covered on the BBC this morning off the back of a new Hefce report. Apparently the number of students taking part-time undergraduate degrees has fallen by 40% since 2010  and the numbers starting part-time courses in September is down  30% from last year.

This is especially worrying seeming how part-time students are often from a non-traditional background by HE standards. Think mature students, people making career moves later in life, parents returning to work after child care commitments, carers and the disabled.

As the BBC article points out there is increased funding to cover the fees gap but the issue is the fear that the situation has created. Fear around actually paying back fees and getting value out of the “investment”. The government system should work but it has not been communicated in a way that makes it apparent to potential students that it does work. What the government fails to recognize is the subjective fear that has been put into the system. This fear effects those coming to He from a non-traditional background more. Coming from a non-traditional background means by nature there are more barriers to overcome and so added fear can potentially be a barrier too far. This means that falling numbers in part-time students may be evidence of a wider issue about the sort of student HE is putting off under its new fee regime.

Added to this while school teachers and careers advisers are positioned to deal with the issue of fear for school leavers many potential part-time students are not in this category and so are not in the position to access the needed support. Fees and the fear that comes with it appears to be radically reshaping the demographic of HE.

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