Why we must listen to the voices of part-time students

A new paper published today (6 Feb) from the Higher Education Policy Institute, Unheard: the voices of part-time adult learners (HEPI Report 124) by Dr John Butcher of the Open University, considers the sharp decline in part-time learning through the voices of students.

Between 2011/12 and 2017/18, there was a 60% fall in the number of people from England starting a part-time undergraduate course within the UK. This contributed towards an overall 21% drop in the number of people from England starting undergraduate study and a 16% decline in the number of new undergraduate students from England from low participation areas.

The voices of part-time learners captured in the report reveal three areas of particular concern to part-time learners:

  1. Prior obstacles to learning: I’m in my 50s, with a family … I left high school and just went to work … but there was this thing in the back of my mind I could have done more … if I could turn the clock back I would consider going full-time. 
  2. Costs: Paying rent or a mortgage impacts on people’s ability and their decision to invest in part-time education … in my late 30s, is it something that is going to have been worth the time, and the financial investment … it’s people like us who have taken the impact of the fees.
  3. The inflexibility of institutions: A part-time student is not considered as a demographic in their own right … you are just shoe-horned in, lumped with the full-timers … I’m basically too old … it would be useful to categorise part-time students a little bit further.

The stories captured in the new report also reveal the personal feelings of part-time learners after enrolment:

  1. Anxiety: I’d been at home since I had children … just to come outside was a big thing, but then to come into a university and then to be with academics, listening to lectures and seminars … caused me quite a lot of internal anxiety.
  2. Challenge: I’ve been a stay-at-home mother for 22 years … it’s so long since I’ve studied I wanted to make sure I still could … I found it hard to even focus for more than about half an hour … wanted to test myself out.
  3. Opportunity: I signed up and it reinvigorated the love of learning that I hadn’t had for about ten years. It built on things I may have missed at school … I really want to get back on track with my life really.

The author of the paper, Dr John Butcher, who has responsibility for access at the Open University, said:

The collapse in part-time learning means individuals lose out and universities are less interesting places. Official policies like the National Student Survey and widening participation initiatives are part of the problem because they tend to play down or even ignore part-time learners.

Part-time students are disproportionately likely to come from parts of society traditionally under-represented in higher education. Ministerial statements about there being a record numbers of students ignore part-time learners. When they are included, a big drop in the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds is revealed.

A new approach is overdue, especially in England which lags behind other parts of the UK in protecting part-time education. Otherwise, part-time students will continue to be peripheral, feeling like tourists passing through higher education but knowing they do not really belong.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

Recent reforms to higher education are meant to have introduced a student-centred system. But people who want, or need, to study part-time have less choice than they did. The removal of some public funding in 2008, the tripling of tuition fees in 2012 and the withdrawal of some courses have had a terrible combined impact.

We are good at producing data in higher education but we are sometimes less good at listening to the voices of learners, which can teach us so much. Boosting part-time study would help fill skills shortages and help the life chances of individuals. If we change direction, we can have a clear win:win.

 Commenting on the publication of this paper, Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President (Higher Education), said:

“This report highlights the need for policies which take into account not just the structure of part-time learning, but the lives of part-time students themselves. These students can often be left behind by universities, and the decline in part-time numbers since tuition fees were raised is frankly shocking.

"The only way to address this and to improve conditions for part-time students is through a National Education Service which is funded, accessible and lifelong.”

The paper ends with a series of policy recommendations aimed at making policy more part-time aware.

Dr John Butcher has strategic responsibility for the Access and Open programmes at the Open University. He previously held senior roles at the University of Derby, the University of Northampton and University College Falmouth. He is the Managing Editor of the journal Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning.

HEPI’s previous work on part-time students includes It’s the finance, stupid! The decline of part-time higher education and what to do about it (2015), edited by Nick Hillman.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 2 hours 1 minute ago

New £53 million funding for UK manufacturers to boost competitiveness through digital tech: Five brand new digital… https://t.co/PfBiXSB9zX
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page