Carl Cullinane writes for WonkHE on the findings of our report, the Lost Part-timers.

In the often fevered mainstream discourse around tuition fees and student finance, a default focus on young full-time undergraduate students underpins the debate. Yet it is older and part-time students whose participation in higher education has been hardest hit by the 2012 reforms to student finance.

Today the Sutton Trust publishes a new report, authored by Prof Claire Callender and John Thompson, graphically illustrating the extent of the decline in part-time and mature study, and its causes. Between 2010 and 2015, part-time students living in England fell by 51%, a dramatic drop by any standards. Using Open University data to compare participation rates in England with Scotland and Wales (where fee arrangements did not change in 2012), the authors demonstrate that almost half of this decline is attributable to the 2012 reforms, where means-tested grants for part-timers were replaced by tuition fee loans, and fees increased substantially. As a consequence, by 2015, there were 40,000 ‘lost part-timers’ per year potentially missing out on part-time study.

It is little surprise, therefore, that former universities minister Lord Willetts has expressed his great regret at the effects of the 2012 reforms on part-time and mature students. In policy circles, there has been an increasing recognition of the need to tackle the crisis, including a MillionPlus report on mature students published this week. However there remains a lack of political momentum. It is welcome that mature and part-time study will fall under the remit of the Review of Post-18 Education, yet it seemed to be an afterthought as the Prime Minister launched the review in Derbyshire.

***

Read the full blog.