Part-time study debated at House of Lords

25 July 2013

The potential that part-time study has in enabling more people to gain qualifications was raised at the House of Lords yesterday by Baroness Joan Bakewell, following her close work with Birkbeck, University of London and NIACE on the #PartTimeMatters initiative.

Baroness Bakewell, said:

“I am pleased to introduce this debate today because it is both timely and urgent…there is a serious crisis in part-time education, which needs to be addressed. Enrolment figures for part-time study at both graduate and postgraduate level are falling year on year. The number of part-time undergraduate entrants has fallen by 40% since 2010.

“Central to the issue is money. Following fee changes in 2012, part-time undergraduate students have had access to fee loans. However, some part-time fees increased in 2012. The Higher Education Funding Council for England, HEFCE, reported that between November 2012 and January 2013—scarcely three months —21 colleges reported a drop in demand for part-time courses because of reluctance to take on student loans. These moves in student numbers are steep and sudden.

“This is crucial for several reasons. The known and existing benefits of part-time study are already understood: it increases social mobility by allowing people from poorer backgrounds to access study that they would not be able to afford full-time, and it allows adults who have missed out earlier by taking employment straight from school to rethink and reshape their prospects, consider a change of direction and gain a more fulfilling and self-directed future for themselves.

“According to the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, there is evidence that it boosts skill levels and improves employability. NIACE also tells us that adult learning contributes to better health: evidence exists that taking up courses as an adult increases the chances of giving up smoking and reduces the risk of depression, especially in women. I can thoroughly understand the latter; the risk of social isolation and stress often experienced by young mothers is all too familiar.

“There is strong evidence that part-time students are strongly motivated, have a strong sense of intention in their study and a commitment to its helping improve their outlook, their careers and their sense of fulfillment. That is why, in launching this debate today, I hope to start and continue a debate about how to shift the focus of education better to match the needs of those who would be students.”

Other peers who contributed to the debate include Baronesses Sharp, Brinton and Warwick, as well as Lords Rees and Stevenson. Baroness Garden rounded up the debate for the Government.