Joan Bakewell urges action on part-time students

Baroness Joan Bakewell Baroness Bakewell served as the government's voice of older people from 2008 -10

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Baroness Bakewell is urging the government to back efforts to stem the dramatic drop in part-time students.

The president of Birkbeck, University of London, says higher fees and a failure to communicate new rights to government loans for part-time students has led to a 40% drop in England.

Lady Bakewell says "unprecedented" support is needed to ensure the future of part-time higher education.

The government says it is already working with universities on the issue.

Lady Bakewell says she intends to use her new role at Birkbeck - which specialises in evening and part-time courses and is part of the University of London - to exert pressure on government to support part-time higher education.

She says a high quality university education should be accessible for students for whom the traditional full-time daytime route is not an option.

'Thrives in the future'

"There is a vast segment of people who haven't had the opportunity to access university and there needs to be a greater appreciation of this," she adds.

"Part-time study is crucial for our society. It improves skills and kick-starts new careers - exactly what we need for the economy, employers and individuals during these difficult economic times. In response to the dramatic downturn in part-time students nationwide, unprecedented support is needed now to ensure part-time study thrives in future."

One third of England's undergraduate population studies part-time, and the importance of part-time study for the economy and social mobility is widely recognised.

But it faces a challenging and uncertain future, largely, Lady Bakewell says, because of the government's introduction of higher tuition fees and the failure to communicate the new loan system effectively to prospective part-time students.

Statistics released recently by the Higher Education Funding Council for England show that since 2010, across England, part-time undergraduate numbers have fallen by 40%, while part-time postgraduate numbers fell 27%. Birkbeck says it has seen falls in its own student numbers of a similar magnitude.

Lady Bakewell adds: " I think it is very important to keep the pressure up on government. I certainly intend to be vocal."

As Birkbeck President, she is following in the footsteps of well-known historian Professor Eric Hobsbawm.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said England's world-class university sector had responded well to its reforms.

"There is a new focus on the quality of the student experience and the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to university is at record levels.

"There are no financial barriers to higher education and according to the World Bank the system is exemplary. We need to monitor closely the changing demand for part-time, mature and postgraduate study, and will continue to do so.

"We are actively engaging with the sector on a number of projects including a Universities UK-led review of part-time study and our communications to prospective students."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    The universities are not interested in Part Time Higher Education, because it doesn't fit the business model they are working to. We need to bring back something like the CNAA to sponsor part time degree level courses in non-traditional areas. All of our CHEs and other local, non-uni HE disappeared along with the CNAA - and we are much worse off for that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    The Open Uni. got very focused on elder students, so that it became a bad route for younger people, however I had to rush through the last 2 modules to get my BA open, meaning unrepresentative results, against people who love lit. or classical music, meaning qual useless to get job. Area where i just missed a first (music tech) cannot afford no to study computer tech due to cost, so dole for me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Well of course part-time study is falling - it is a natural reaction to the appalling hike in tuition fees and lack of grants for students. Most part-time students are self-funding so it is really a no-brainer that there are less of them. 15 years ago I undertook an MA at my own expense, I would not even consider it today!

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    @38 Dr Nige.

    Your (lack of) logic is flawed.

    People in full-time education on benefits should indeed be given a weekly allowance, why? Qualifications = more pay = more tax paid = more disposable income = our economy is better off. I.e. they are an investment and provided they deliver, our nation benefits. Add instilling a sense of loyalty, the state helps when you're in need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    I'm a part time student. I did go full time into uni but was just too burned out not only by the schedule but the whole uni culture. Now I do 10 hours a week uni and work 2 part time jobs (one on a zero hour contract), I live off campus and I have a more flexible and less stressful life

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Some of the remarks here about the fees charged by the OU are quite instructive.

    They entire idea of the Open University was that it did provide part-time further education to all. I wonder what Jenny Lee would think about the spike in fees?

    It would appear that further education has become a commodity

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Microsoft qualifications require a few good textbooks and hours of study, before taking exams at circa £100 for each one. Pass 5-6 exams and you can become a Microsoft Certified Professional and have a strong chance of employment within the IT industry. People need to look at their study plans, and determine whether their path will lead to employment, as some degrees are virtually worthless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    This government's message (and that of the previous so-called Labour government) is that education isn't for everybody. It's for the affluent. Everybody else will have to get McJobs, suffice with a mediocre standard of living, content to just consume.
    I'm a year from completing my OU degree and glad I started it long enough ago for it to be affordable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    "29.blagshaw "

    I flew through 8 'O'levels but my dad wouldn't let me stay on in sixth form.
    You are foolish if you think children choose their education.

    It seems you were given everything in life and never had to work for anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    The government, including those BACK-STABBERS, the LIB DEMS, have WRECKED one of Britain's GREATEST EXPORTS, i.e. our university education system.

    They have cut teaching budgets by 80%, leaving the whole issue of postgraduate studies and part-time studies in chaos. Talented students are not applying for postgraduate posts, concerned about debt from the undergraduate degree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Part time higher education proves to be a wonderful opportunity for many people of different backgrounds.
    Nevertheless, until people are vetted to ascertain the suitability of their chosen career paths, these debates are financial only!!
    Also, more courses supporting traditional skills, aside from the srevice sector, would be very welcome!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.


    Student loans are NOT taken account of when taking out a mortgage or other loans in the way other borrowing would be. The way student loans now work means that your income is reduced slightly if over a specified level by in effect paying higher tax.

    That is no benefit to those who are barred from getting a loan which is a big reason for the decline in mature part-time students.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Blagshaw, I am really sorry but you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Not everyone had the opportunity to get to university when they were young. The eleven plus singled out about 50 per cent who went to the local secondary modern. You were judged at 9 or 10 which secondary school you would get and that determined if you had a chance for uni. Maybe now things are a bit different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I'd like to do stuff at the OU for example or at local unis because college courses are a bit low level for me now in many areas. Unfortunately the OU with their concentration on elderly retired students at the expense of younger students (the elders can get whopping scores, because for example most younger students are neither a fan of Pride and Prejudice or Bach) mean too expensive for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Whatever happened to the Open University?

    Wouldn't it be great if all the bandwidth and airtime not utilised by BBC3 and BBC4 and others could be used for something half intelligent.

    The lectures and broadcasting resource must surely be there already.

    It seems surprisingly wasteful not to use these.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Action is needed to assist those in employment to improve their qualifications.

    Employers in particular should be encouraging their employees and giving them support to do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I took my degree part time with the Open University, graduating in 2011 when a 60 point module cost £670. The same module now would cost me £2,500. That is why numbers are falling. It is so sad that part time study is in such decline. I agree with everything Ms Bakewell says but I don't think explaining loans is relevant: we all know that debt is debt!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    @38 DrNige. I agree. How about this instead: I can't study part or full time because I work full time for a living and therefore have no access to benefits - just so the government can take away up to 70% of my earnings in direct and indirect taxation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    So, study and education are big business. They are fully prepared to market themselves and trade in part on aspirational intellectual self-fulfilment. That is the world we live in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    "Challenging & uncertain future",assume you also meant that endangered species ie 30/100k jobs to employ all these qualified students in order to justify their 30/50k debt,which they will ALL pay as the fresh-old will ensure,it will also be taken into calculations for mortgages,loans,etc,don't forget!
    "No financial barriers to higher Edu"!?,ALL my MIDDLE CLASS friends beg to disagree,and the poor?


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