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What is The Power of Part-time Studies?

Oct 22, 2013
  • Education
What is The Power of Part-time Studies?
Multi-tasking businesswoman

Last Wednesday a report named “The Power of Part-time” was published by Universities UK. After amassing and analyzing data from students, employers, higher education administrators and other stakeholder organizations, the study's conclusions were firm: part-time higher education study is critical to meeting the dynamic demands of the new global economy, and provides a myriad of benefits not only for the economy but also for individuals. .

Accepting the report is easy, but the next part offers the bigger challenge: translating this information into real change through a collective societal shift in how we think about part-time higher education.

An Overview of “The Power of Part-time” report

Qualified as an urgent initial assessment of the situation, “The Power of Part-time” concluded that flexible undergraduate and graduate programs are a critical subset of the higher education system. Typically comprising 29 % (approximately 700,000) of the undergraduate population in England, these numbers are in frightening decline.

The campaign “Part Time Matters” was launched earlier this year during Adult Learners’ Week in response to findings from the Higher Education Funding Council. The organization touted the critical nature of higher education while simultaneously reporting on the significant downturn of students, despite strong data which revealed that part-time students demonstrate exceptionally high levels of employment stability. Employers, meanwhile, agreed that part-time study was a solid model for providing current employees with enhanced productivity and efficiency skills, while part-time students attributed increased happiness and self-confidence to their studies.

The problem is not system-wide. In fact, full-time undergraduate enrollments continue to rise despite decreasing part-time enrollments--particularly for older students and women, many of whom have dependent children at home. According to "Part Time Matters," the need for increased accommodations for this declining demographic--both economically and societally--is greater than ever. .

Potential Impact on England and Beyond

The global economy changes quickly, and modern employees and employers need to keep pace. Part-time higher education serves a valuable function in arming the members of the current workforce with critical skills. Research reinforces this concept: the economic contributions of part-time students in years immediately following graduation far exceeds those of their full-time counterparts. Failure to recognize and support the importance of part-time learning options will stunt economic growth in England, as well as in Scotland and throughout the U.K. And that’s just from the business end. Research also points to a wealth of personal and social benefits that go along with lifelong learning which are summarily stripped away with the decline in enrollments. While the figures don’t specifically address world-wide concerns, the implications are clear.

Causes of the Decline

“The Power of Part-time” identified several contributing factors to this concerning decline, led by awareness, or lack there of. Most employees and students are unaware of the bona fide value of part-time studies, as well as of the financial options which support them. An additional lack of visibility pertains to the breadth and depth of available coursework.

A second cause pertains to infrastructure, both with higher education institutions and employers. "The Power of Part-time" concluded that today’s higher education systems lack sufficient mechanisms to support flexible learning approaches. Employers, meanwhile, fail to provide provisions and incentives for part-time study, despite the highly vocational nature of such programs. In fact, while the majority of part-time students are enrolled in vocational coursework while holding full-time jobs, less than a third receive incentive from their employers in the form of financial support.

Action Items

“The Power of Part-time” identified five critical action items for immediate implementation. These include the following:

  1. Rethink: All higher education providers and funding councils should rethink and revise traditional views of higher education to embrace part-time and older students as an intrinsic part of the system, as opposed to as incidental participants.
  2. Educate: From the local to international level, a forceful educational initiative should seek to raise awareness of potential students and employees about the value of part-time higher education, as well as the diversity of opportunities for coursework, both vocational and otherwise.
  3. Meet Needs: It is incumbent upon academic institutions to identify and commit to meeting the needs of part-time students in order to facilitate positive and beneficial experiences.
  4. Consider the Economy: The needs of the local economy should be evaluated, and employers should work to boost part-time academic studies pursuits in these areas.
  5. Pursue More Data: In order to support sound national policy decisions in England, throughout the U.K. and across the globe, more research and modeling is needed.

Looking Ahead

Despite the many factors mentioned in the report, there is renewed hope for change in the part-time education world. Apprenticeships are on the rise, while an increase in private providers and online learning opportunities adds an element of the unknown to the issue. Meanwhile, a number of different organizations--from The Office for Fair Access to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills with its new, national campaign, “Make Your Future Happen”--have joined in the good fight to enhance higher education opportunities for part-time students.

While “The Power of Part-time” may only be a first step, it is a momentous one. By inspiring people to work together--and indeed, by recognizing that this problem will only be solved by a collective reprioritizing--"The Power of Part-time" can be a springboard to comprehensive and transformational change. Read more about Part Time opportunities here.

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Joanna Hughes


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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