11 Aug 2010

New generation of part-time learners focus on career progression: 1 in 4 of new OU students is under 25 - 55% work full-time

A whole new generation is joining the 39% of UK students who choose to study part-time¹. Over 29,000 of Open University students are now under 25, making up 1 in 4 of all OU new undergraduates², and most work while they study with 55% of the OU’s 18-24 year old students in full-time employment³.

89% of part-time students study to further their career aims4. Younger OU students tend to be studying towards a qualification rather than for interest or as a one-off, and popular course choices among the under 25s at the OU are science, ICT and social sciences5.

Christina Lloyd, Head of Teaching and Learner Support, said: “This year, record numbers of students are applying for university places with higher expectations of grades for university entry and fierce competition for graduate jobs. We’re currently seeing how higher education is changing - the three-year full-time degree isn’t the whole story any more, as the true picture of higher education is much more varied. The balance is already shifting as students opt for other models of study such as part-time, and they often make positive choices about managing their own finances by choosing to work while they study and plan their careers.”

One such student combining work and study is Dan Clements, 19 year old community policeman and Open University student, from Buckinghamshire: “At the moment I'm studying an Introduction to Social Science with a view to receiving a BSc in Criminology and Psychology. I'm a Police Community Support Officer with Thames Valley Police so I thought the degree would be really relevant and a big help when I decide to further my career. I'm really enjoying studying at the moment. At first I was a bit worried as I was the youngest person on the course and I didn't know if my work would be up to standard. But, I'm pleased to say that those fears have gone thanks to some really good assignment scores and positive feedback from my tutor.”

Avoiding debt is another factor for many younger students who choose part-time learning, with nearly 62,000 current OU students receiving financial help – 28% of the OU’s student base. Louise Kennedy, a 22 year old from Bristol said “I didn't want to accumulate debt and I was already working when I decided I wanted to study for my degree; I couldn't afford to give up my job. I’m currently working as cabin crew and my shifts can be very anti-social. I am studying with the intention of obtaining a degree in order to change my profession. The Open University has given me many opportunities and there is always someone to turn to when you need advice through many different channels. I feel very lucky to have the amount of help I am receiving in terms of advice and funding.

“I do attempt to study in the air. I always have at least one text book in my bag and usually do the reading when I get a minute, when the others are doing the stereotypical reading of trashy magazines! Also if we have delays I am able to try and get some reading done. It depends on the route and the type of passengers as to how busy we are and how demanding they are as to whether I actually get anything done. On some occasions I’ve got a whole chapter done without too much bother and on others I’m interrupted after every other sentence. But as time is the issue studying at work is essential. However since I’m doing languages, on the flights I try to speak to the passengers and do the announcements in French and Spanish.”

Key facts

* 3% of students under 25 yrs have no qualifications

* 37% of students under 25 yrs have less than two A levels

* 38% of students under 25 yrs have two or more A levels or equivalent qualifications

* The Open University in Scotland has seen a 34.3% increase in 18-24 year old students6

* New young student numbers across the UK have increased by more than 2,200 in 09/08, making up 25.7% of the total intake at undergraduate level

* Younger students tend to be studying towards a qualification rather than for interest or as a one-off

• 53% of OU students identified benefit to their career as the primary motivation for studying their course.

- end -

Notes to editors
1. Authors’ calculations from HESA Student Record, 2007-08.
2. OU New Young Students, 2008/9, Strategy Unit
3. 55% of the OU’s 18-24 year old students in full-time employment is based on Full Times Equivalents (FTE).
4. Callender, C., Hopkin, R., and Wilkinson D. (2010 forthcoming) Futuretrack: part-time students career decision-making and career development of part-time higher education students HECSU, Manchester
5. OU Information Office under 25 course related statistics
6. The Open University in Scotland has seen a 34.3% increase in 18-24 year old students from 1181 in 2007/08 to 1586 in 2009-10 based on headcount registrations.

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