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 80.

    An observation,please feel free to correct me?
    Over the last few years there have been reports that a degree is worth £200k over your lifetime(Guardian Graduate 6th March recently)
    So,that's very roughly after 40% tax on (£32k+)+NI =£110/120K net,+paying back your loan,parents,etc.
    If I'm right this = £3k per year more over your working life,assuming your degree has currency£+demand of course

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    People have worked out that money borrowed has to be paid back, which sadly our politicians haven't - and not just in education.

    I am astonished by the cost of Open University modules. I was thinking of doing a course myself but I wouldn't at these rip off prices. What a joke. What will be the economic cost of putting self-improvement out of reach of ordinary people? How will UK plc compete?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    As a part owner of a small firm we chose to sponsor three students through university courses over some ten years. Each time we thought things might get better however in all three cases the quality was rubbish (one university even tried to steal our clients!) and the students once in receipt of their degrees then left! The answer is not more degrees but better analysis and targeted provision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    ...Part time students the least profitable
    So part timers are down 40-50%

    Birkbeck doesn't have full-time undergraduates, its numbers aren't, as the article says, down because they're not taking on part-time students (its all they take on with the odd exception), its because people cant afford the fees they're obliged to charge

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    As a recent postgraduate student, I decided to study full time because I couldn't afford to take more than a year out of paid employment. There is NO funding for postgraduate students at all, so it makes it difficult to undertake on any basis. I believe this is a flaw of equal size. Reticence is caused by the appalling tuition fee cost and 'interest free' loans which are anything but.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    70 barryp
    Agreed,although I assume some are still paid partially or totally by your employer!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    67. anthonygh
    Most university courses are part time in terms of the hours one has to attend lectures and tutorials

    You have fundamentally misunderstood university education. It is not like school, where you sit and listen to the teacher all day. You are expected to do research for yourself, to read around the subject, to study in the library, or online, using all resources.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I agree with earlier comments about missing out on higher education after school. I was made to leave school at 15 because we needed the money I could earn. I went to night school to get secretarial qualifications and took my GCE English as well. When I could afford the OU (in 1989) I joined and graduated in 1994. With out this degree I would not have been able to get the job I always wanted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    @68 You are making wild thoughtless comments. Think again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    The universities are not interested in Part Time Higher Education, because it doesn't fit the business model they are working to

    Birkbecks business model is (& always has been) entirely built on evening + part-time study, Other universities, feeling the need to make more money, have branched out more in recent years into evening study + commercial short courses for the private sector

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Before moaning about Uni fees it might help to check how much others have to pay for their qualifications. One example is around £6k for a plumber. HGV training runs into thousands, Gas Safe costs a small fortune. The simple fact is that good quality training casts serious money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    "Universities" are in it for the money first and education second

    Overseas students are the most profitable

    Part time students the least profitable

    So part timers are down 40-50%

    In any case, the engine of education in the future is the internet

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.


    So you had to do what daddy told you to instead of getting a proper education? Pathetic.

    I worked hard, arranged my own finance and sponsorship and made damn sure nobody told me what I did with my life.

    People like you, refusing to take hold of your own life and then expecting the state to bail you out when you rue your own weaknesses are the ones wanting everything given.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Most university courses are part time in terms of the hours one has to attend lectures and is just the fees that are full time!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    I'd put this in the same boat as apprenticeships, or lack thereof. UK business wants a highly skilled workforce but, in the majority at least, is unwilling to invest the relatively small sums required to develop their own staff.

    Employees have to take some of the blame for this as well though. So many staff taking their training and then finding a job elsewhere has to be off putting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    @39.Lucky White Heather
    Further Education colleges should be a safety net for those who missed out on earlier education. These colleges provide flexible learning hours

    Birkbeck offers those who for whatever reason didn't follow the normal route the chance to study at a world class institution whilst working
    Why should older students only have access to 2nd or 3rd rate Higher Education

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    49 jb
    Thanks,"in the way",so no need to worry then, both short and long-term as it will always remain totally irrelevant in every manner!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    @29blagshaw. I bet your hoards of friends gush about your infinite humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.


    But they are for security vetting. Meaning that people with student loans just out of uni who are married are basically barred from the "security" services. This means they continue to be staffed by the old boys club. I know this from first hand experiance.

    I left uni with a slightly lower than average debt, but was refused. and this was BEFORE the trippling in fees!

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    @29 How limited you must be in scope and thinking to write such a short-sighted comment. I have benefited from working hard on part-time courses over the years, and reaped the rewards. In my 50's I intend to carry on studying for a new career through Open University. I appreciate hugely the opportunities offered by this country for many of us later in life.


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