Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 18

Submission from Professor Bernard Longden[39] and Professor Mantz Yorke[40] Lancaster University


  1.  In the academic year 2006-07, the numbers of students on taught programmes in higher education in the UK were as follows:

Bachelor's degree
Other undergraduate


Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency "heidi" website.

2.  The experience of part-time students has been little researched. There were a couple of studies were reported in the 1990s (Bourner et al, 1991; Schuller et al, 1999). More recently, Yorke (2005) reported findings from a survey of students who had embarked on the (then) new foundation degree programmes in England, and Callender et al (2006) conducted a survey for Universities UK, which concentrated on funding issues and left other aspects of "the student experience" to be addressed via the National Student Survey.

  3.  The National Student Survey provides some limited data, from those about to graduate, about "the part-time student experience". Until the 2008 administration of the NSS (for which detailed outcome data are not yet available), the instrument was limited to 22 closed-response items plus the possibility of replying in free-text form. Hitherto, students have given consistently high ratings across the six scales of that instrument, together with the "overall satisfaction" item. The problem is that the data are at a relatively high level of generality, which can provide only a very "broad brush" depiction of their collective experience.

  4.  The shortage of detail about part-time students' experience prompted the authors of this submission to conduct a more detailed survey. Eleven post-1992 universities contributed to a survey of their part-time students who were following taught courses of various kinds. The post-1992 universities were approached because of their generally high level of commitment to part-time provision, and because it was in these institutions that there existed substantial numbers of students following programmes at the level of the bachelor's degree and below.

  5.  The survey received 2871 valid responses, of which roughly 40% related to postgraduate programmes, 40% to programmes at bachelor's level, and 15% to programmes below bachelor's level.

  6.  The strongly predominant reason given for opting for part-time study over full-time study was that it allowed study to be undertaken alongside other commitments. The flexibility that part-time study allowed, and its relative affordability, were by some distance the second and third most acknowledged reasons. The most frequently-stated reason given for studying was the students' desire to improve their capability in their current job. The possibility of gaining promotion and preparation for a career switch were significant for smaller proportions of respondents. Around one in five respondents gave personal satisfaction as a rationale: this was most marked in those studying at bachelor's level.

  7.  Around two thirds of respondents overall said that they had made the choice of programme. Relatively infrequently was the decision solely the choice of an employer: when employers were involved, the decision was more likely to involve both employer and potential student. Where employment-related study was the focus, tuition fees were met by more than two thirds of students' employers: however, the level of employer support for ancillary expenses was considerably lower. A more detailed analysis showed some variation between subject discipline areas as regards the balance between self-funding and employer sponsorship.

  8.  Students' responses to 28 items relating to "the student experience" were generally positive. The items coalesced into five scales with reasonable technical quality. The highest scale scores were found in the areas of programme quality, the engagement with others on the programme, and institutional services (especially library and computing provision). However, feedback was—as has been noted in the National Student Survey—less positively rated. There was a strong tendency to recommend the programme to a friend. Coping with demands elicited less positive responses, as did the ability to attend all of the taught sessions (probably because of the various other calls on students' time). The ratings suggested that worry about funding studies in higher education was a matter of fairly widespread concern to students.

  9.  Free-response comments indicated that there were two main aspects to concerns about programme organisation. First, a high proportion of respondents comprised part-time students who were nevertheless "infilling" on full-time programmes. The main complaint was that insufficient attention was given to their part-time status in the way in which the programme was implemented. Second, administrative and other institutional services were not available at the times when the part-time students attended.

  10.  The most important issue raised by this study (which has a number of practical ramifications) is whether institutions make provision appropriate to the needs of part-time students, and avoid making the uncritical assumption that part-time students can simply be accommodated on programmes designed for their full-time counterparts.

  11.  As King (2008) observed, part-time higher education lacks institutional performance measures comparable to those employed in respect of full-time study. Although outwith the remit of the survey whose outcomes are broadly reported here, the absence of such measures (difficult as they will be to construct for such a broad student body), does not help institutions to focus on their part-time students' experiences.

  12.  The contemporary policy interest emphasises the development of ways in which higher education engages with society. Part-time study is likely to be of increasing importance. The present study, constrained as it was by lack of funding, acts as a significant pilot for further—and more detailed—investigation of "the part-time student experience".

  13.  The full report can be obtained from the Higher Education Academy's website via It will be made available on 9 December 2008. An analysis of two aspects of the part-time experience has been presented as a paper at the SRHE Conference (Longden & Yorke 2008).


  It is recommended that funding be made available for a detailed study of students' experiences in part-time higher education. The priority should be on undergraduate provision in various forms.


  Bourner T with Reynolds A, Hamed M and Barnett R (1991) Part-time students and their experience of higher education. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press.

Callender C, Wilkinson D and Mackinon K (2006) Part-time students and part-time study in higher education in the UK. Strand 3: a survey of students' attitudes and experiences of part-time study and its costs 2005/06. London: Universities UK.

  King, C (2008) Part time study in and higher education (Report to the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills). At (accessed 4 December 2008)

  Longden, B., and Yorke, M. (2008) The experience of part-time students in UK higher education. Paper presented at the Society for Research in Higher Education, 11th. December 2008, Liverpool.

  Schuller T, Raffe D, Morgan-Klein B and Clark I (1999) Part-time higher education: policy, practice and experience. London: Jessica Kingsley.

  Yorke M (2005) Firming the foundations: an empirical and theoretical appraisal of the foundation degree in England. Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning 7 (1), pp.13-21.

December 2008

39   Liverpool Hope University. Back

40   Lancaster University. Back

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