Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Part-time blues

Here is the most unsurprising bit of news about student enrolment in UK universities:
... part-time enrolments are down big time compared with last year, by as much as 30% at some universities. And the overall fall in part-time enrolments is likely to be larger than the fall for full-time students in England.
No shit Sherlock. If you close most of the departments of lifelong learning in the country, ones that specialised in part-time courses for adults and taught thousands of students, you might find the numbers dropping a tad.

Of course the reason lies in the impact of the new funding regime and its failure to see universities as anything other than recipients of young people preparing for work. This blindness was matched by institutions, with some honourable exceptions, undervaluing the contribution that part-time adult education made to their universities and to the cities and regions they operate in. The result is an increasingly orthodox sector when the economic crisis demands greater flexibility, just as smaller family budgets are going to squeeze the money available to fund learning. So the combination of reduced capacity with higher fees is a killer.

Ah, I hear the mantra being repeated:
For the first time, some new part-time university entrants can get student loans for their fees, and so will no longer have to pay up-front ... These reforms aim to encourage more people to study part-time and to stem the general decline in part-time higher education study. 
Well, as this report makes clear, only 30% of students will be eligible for loans and besides you have to look at what the loans are replacing. First, fees were often kept low and so the rise in fees is disproportionate, simply pricing many people out of the market even if they can get a loan. The second impact is on low income students who previously had their fees fully remitted and were eligible for small £500 loans to cover the expenses of part-time study. They now have to take a loan to repay full fees unless there is a good bursary scheme that might cover them. They don't pay anything up front, but they didn't have to previously and didn't acquire a debt.

When funding changed it did so without any questioning of the purpose of higher education or of the role a university should play. It is a mechanism without a philosophy. The sheer lack of imagination is staggering, but the loss to thousands of adult education students is incalculable.


Jim M. said...

I would contend that adult education (full- or part-time)represents the best possible opportunity for re-training/upgrading the quality of the UK workforce, and that any measure which impacts negatively on this represents a failure to make best use of the countrys assets, particularly at a time of economic disorder and high unemployment.

Anton Deque said...

The current system for higher education is not in any sense like that which existed ten or twenty years ago. It is a business. I have heard this from a University Vice Chancellor in person and from colleagues who relayed similar stories.