Following the shift in 2012 in England to a tuition fee cap of £9,000, there has been a drop of around one third in the number of part-time student enrolments across the UK. The Universities UK project will look at which individuals and sectors have been most affected by this fall. It will look also at which employers and sectors are in greatest future need of high-level skills. And which would benefit most from recruiting graduates who have gained their higher education qualification through flexible learning.
The employer perspective will be delivered in partnership with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). They will help seek the views of employers on their current and future skills needs and whether they would benefit from more flexible learning approaches.
The project will identify the main issues and develop policy recommendations that will feed in to the government's planned review of university funding and student finance in England.
Commenting on the project, Professor Julie Lydon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Wales and chair of the project's advisory group, said: "For many students, the traditional, three-year full-time degree has been the preferred path. But for others, this way of studying does not meet their needs.
"As the economy and demand for skills change, we are likely to see more people looking to learn and re-train throughout their lives. It is vital therefore that our higher education system responds to these changing needs.
"We have seen a dramatic decline in the number of part-time and mature learners in recent years. If the UK is to prosper and compete internationally, this must be looked at by policy-makers. It is important, therefore, that it is addressed in the government's forthcoming review of higher education in England. The findings and policy recommendations of this project will be fed into that review."
Neil Carberry, Managing Director of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "Speak to any business and before long the conversation turns to skills challenges. With the world of work changing, developing additional and alternative routes to higher skills will matter more than ever.
"That is why the decline in part-time students is so alarming and why we are pleased to be working with UUK on this project. For many prospective students, other commitments, such as work or caring responsibilities, mean that being able to have a flexible approach to studying is essential and university provision will increasingly need to be tailored to meet people's needs."
The project will gather evidence, produce a range of outputs and develop policy recommendations by summer 2018.
The one third decrease in part-time enrolments covers all students enrolled on part-time courses at UK higher education institutions between 2011–12 and 2015–16