The recent Universities UK report ‘working in partnership: enabling social mobility in HE’ stresses the role that mature students (who by the HE sector definition can be anything from 21+) play in terms of promoting social mobility, economic growth and enhancing productivity. UUK have also previously reported on the positive impact that part-time learners make to the economy (UUK, 2013). In producing a literature review for some recent scholarship, I was surprised to read ‘Does the Collapse in Part-time Study Matter?’ which refers to the profile of part-time students as:
• 85% studying towards a certificate or diploma
• 64% distance learners
• 77% mature students
These statistics have somehow led to the assumption in the blog that mature learners study for personal enrichment and self-improvement in their leisure time rather than for any economic reason. I doubt that most mature learners studying part-time whilst they hold down a full-time job and juggle their studies around family and other personal commitments, would agree.
I agree that most part-time learners are mature, however data from the Open University suggests that their students tend to be career changers and career developers rather than enrichment learners as the HEFCE blog suggests. John Butcher’s report for the Higher Education Academy (HEA) exploring the experiences of part-time learners suggests that part-time study is the only option for mature learners primarily because, due to existing financial and personal commitments, they are unable to leave paid employment to study full-time. This does not mean however that they are studying purely for the fun of it.
In addition to the personal benefits that studying may bring to careers and role enrichment, part-time learners contribute more to the economy in terms of tax payments and GDP than full-time students. This needs to be recognised across the sector by ensuring that the needs of these learners are recognised and met. It is sad to see, that despite huge efforts in the last couple of years to promote the contribution that part-time mature learners make to the economy, some policymakers still see these learners as leisure learners.