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The impact of higher education for part-time students

This report discusses the findings of a study undertaken by Birkbeck, University of London and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, commissioned by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills to examine the impact of higher education (HE) on the labour market experiences of graduates who studied part-time and full-time as undergraduates. Recent policy developments suggest that part-time study is central to the UK’s skills and employability agenda because it provides flexible study aimed at those already in the labour market. This matters because of the need to up-skill and re-skill the ageing working population. Furthermore, as the 2011 White Paper Higher Education: Students at the heart of the system (BIS, 2011) confirms, part-time study can further the government’s wider HE policy objectives. Specifically, it has a role in providing educational opportunities throughout people’s lives, in increasing social mobility, and in creating a more diverse HE sector responsive to the needs of employers, the economy, and students by giving students greater choice and enhancing their HE experience. To make part-time HE more affordable and accessible, for the first-time part-time undergraduates in England will be eligible for student loans to cover the costs of their tuition fees. Consequently, twice as many – around a third- of part-time undergraduates will qualify for government-funded financial support from 2012/13. Little is known about the extent to which part-time undergraduate study enhances employability, earnings, and labour market progression, unlike the much larger body of research on full-time undergraduates. To help fill some of the large gaps in our knowledge, this study assesses the impact of part-time study on the labour market experiences of graduates and compares them with those who studied full-time as undergraduates. The study analyses the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s data from the Longitudinal Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey which follows up both full and part-time undergraduates six months and three and a half years after graduation.