National skills shortage a threat

The UK’s position as a skilled population global leader is under threat due to the decrease in part-time students, reported by Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE) last week.

Universities UK has been asked by skills minister Matthew Hancock to report on how to improve part-time study following HEFCE findings that undergraduate part-time students have fallen by 40 per cent since 2010.

Professor Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK, said: “We have been concerned for some time about recruitment to part-time courses. It is particularly striking that enrolments to part-time courses have declined despite the recent extension of loans to part-time students.

“These figures show starkly that there is a serious issue, and we are determined to get to the bottom of it. … Part-time study in the UK has a very important role to play in meeting the needs of students, particularly mature students, and the UK’s future skills agenda. It must also contribute towards improving social mobility.”

Universities UK is expected to make its recommendations on how to improve part-time study this autumn.

The organisation cited the Leitch Review of Skills, published in 2006, which found that the UK needed 40 per cent of its adult population to be educated to degree level by 2020 to maintain its leadership in skills. The review stated that young, full-time undergraduates could not fulfil this and that already working adults would need to study part-time, while working, to make up the skills shortage.

HEFCE found last week that part-time study and mature applicants have been hit hard with a 40 per cent fall in part-time undergraduates and a 27 per cent drop in postgraduate part-time entrants since the 2010-2011 academic year. Mature applicants (aged 20 or over) fell by 7.1 per cent between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.

In 2010-2011, there were 351,000 part-time undergraduates and part-time postgraduates; numbers were much the same for the previous two years. This then dipped in 2011-2012 to 301,000 and dipped once more this academic year to 222,000.

Part-time undergraduates numbered 230,000 in 2011 to 2012 but dropped to 154,000 in 2012-2013. The HEFCE report suggested that despite changes in funding, which allow part-time students to access loans on the same terms as full-time students, prospective students are unwilling to pay education fees in an uncertain economic climate.

Last week, Lawyer2B reported on the HEFCE findings in full (15 March 2013).