Adult learning and higher education: a call for evidence

It is widely recognised that higher education needs to cater to the changing needs of the economy, while also supporting people to feel empowered and inspired to continually upskill and reskill throughout their lives.


While the traditional three-year, full-time degree remains a crucial part of the university offer, there is an opportunity for the higher education sector to move towards a more flexible system that meets the needs of adult learners and reverses declines in the numbers of part-time and mature learners. A more flexible system would enable universities to better serve the needs of their local communities, as well as meeting emerging national and global priorities. 

About UUK's work

In 2018, in partnership with the CBI, we set out key recommendations on how the barriers to more flexible learning opportunities in higher education could be addressed. We are now focusing on how funding and regulatory changes to the higher education system would work to improve flexible access to higher education for adults. 

UUK is calling for the introduction of a pilot scheme that will test how modular funding could address local skills gaps, with a view to bringing about longer-term change to the higher education system. 

Call for evidence 

We are keen to hear from a diversity of stakeholders to ensure that we draw on a broad range of views, ideas and expertise. We are calling for organisations and individuals with an interest in adult learning and a more flexible higher education system to submit their views. 

Who do we want to hear from?

We are keen to hear from a wide range of stakeholders, including, but not limited to: 

  • schools, further education colleges, universities
  • higher education and further education membership, representative and sector bodies
  • individual learners and people considering accessing higher education  
  • national and local government departments 
  • public sector organisations and agencies
  • trade bodies and employer representatives
  • trade and student unions
    technology firms and start-ups 
  • think tanks, consultancies and research organisations
  • community-based organisations, including museums, art galleries, etc
  • education and community-orientated charities and charitable foundations


Submit your views

Please use the questions below as a guide. You may email your responses to Leonie Shanks at, by 11:59pm, Monday 6 April 2020.
  1. To best support adult and lifelong learners, what should the higher education system look like in five years time? How would it look different from what currently exists? 

  2. What are the top three priority actions you think need to be taken for the higher education system to better support adult learning? You may wish to comment on some (or all) of the following:
    • greater ability for learners (including government funding support) to undertake shorter courses of study at different points over a lifetime
    • greater joining up between the higher and further education systems 
    • improved information, advice and guidance system that caters to the needs of adults as well as school-age learners
    • targeted funding and support of lifelong learning by employers

  3. UUK is working on how a pilot scheme, where government funding for shorter courses would be available, could operate and pave the way for longer-term change. The pilot could operate in specific locations, and test the response of learners, providers and employers. What considerations should be taken into account in the design of this pilot scheme of modular funding?  

  4. Tell us about any best practice models that you know that enable adult learning, particularly in relation to the following areas:
    • Systems for improved information, advice, guidance and outreach 
    • Ways of understanding and responding to employer needs
    • Ways of understanding and responding to learner needs
    • Innovative IT/ tech solutions or partnerships that support flexible learning 
    • Collaboration and partnerships between organisations/ providers to support flexible learning

What will we do with your responses?

Your responses will inform the practical steps we develop to bring about change. We will publish a short, anonymised and aggregated overview of responses, as well as providing you with an opportunity to remain informed and updated about the work.


Majority of adult learners would upskill at university if given the chance

21 October 2020
New polling by Savanta ComRes for Universities UK has revealed that 82% of prospective students in England who are either unemployed, at risk of unemployment, or looking to learn new skills would be keen to study individual modules of a university degree.

UUK response to prime minister’s speech on adult learning and skills

29 September 2020
Commenting on the Prime Minister's speech on adult learning and skills, Professor Julia Buckingham, the President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said it could benefit millions of adults