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Part time decline due to students shunning HNDs and foundation degrees

A sharp fall in the number of part-time students since 2009 is down to a dramatic drop in demand for non first degree courses such as foundation degrees and HNDs, analysts have concluded.

A fall of 127,000 part-time undergraduates studying on courses other than first degrees could be one of the most dramatic changes in higher education since 2008-09, according to a report on the study from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce).

First degree courses account for only 6 per cent of the overall fall of 46 per cent in numbers of part-timers entering higher education between 2008-09 and 2012-13. The rest of the decline comes from fewer students studying other undergraduate qualifications.

The analysis shows that declining demand for these qualifications was also largely responsible for the much smaller reduction in the number of full-time students in 2012-13.

Commenting on the findings, Hefce chief executive Madeleine Atkins said: “The decline in undergraduate courses other than first degrees is stark. Explaining the declines, though, is not simple. A wide range of factors have affected these courses over a long period of time.”

The drop in the number of entrants to these courses covers all types of study. Foundation degree numbers peaked in 2009 before falling sharply. The same is true of those studying for institutional credit. Numbers of students signing up for HNDs and HNCs have been dropping since at least 1995 – and the introduction of foundation degrees appears to have accelerated the decline as many were converted into foundation degrees.

The area most dramatically affected was foundation degrees. The simplest explanation is that foundation degrees expanded in many universities and colleges without becoming a core activity, and that enrolments suffered from changes such as the introduction of student number controls, the report suggests.

Entrants to foundation degrees in subjects other than biological sciences declined the most, particularly in the social sciences, and business and administrative studies.

These changes may be due partly explained by alternations in the way that data is recorded, according to the analysis. It is possible that numbers are depressed by the tendency for universities and colleges to record students as aiming for a first degree even if they leave having completed a foundation degree.

Numbers may also be depressed by universities and colleges ceasing to attach formal credit to short courses. But it is highly unlikely that these effects could explain changes on this scale, says the analysis.

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