26 Mar 2014

OU leads vital research into part-time student experiences in higher education

The Open University (OU) and the National Union of Students (NUS) are undertaking ground-breaking research into the experiences of part-time students in today’s higher education.

The UK-wide research, which will be led by the OU’s Dr John Butcher, deputy director of the Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships, has been commissioned by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). Over a 12-month period, thousands of students will be consulted to glean their views on what it is like to study part-time at university in the UK and to understand any barriers they face to learning, particularly in the new HE landscape. It will complement existing research with part-time students in Wales being undertaken by The Open University in Wales and NUS Wales. Preliminary results from this suggest that part-time and flexible provision in higher education is crucial to improving access, employability and skills in Wales.

Rajay Naik, Director of Government and External Affairs at the OU said: “We are delighted to have been funded and commissioned to conduct this study which promises to be extremely informative and insightful. This is the most comprehensive study of its kind into part-time learning in higher education and will offer a vital opportunity for the voices of part-time students to be heard.”

Rachel Wenstone, NUS vice president (higher education), said:
“This research gives us the opportunity to deepen our knowledge about part-time students so that we can build on, and enhance, the support we offer. With a steep decline in the numbers of part time students over the last few years, it is imperative that we find out what we can do to improve their experiences and ensure that higher education is inclusive of all.”
As higher education policy in the UK becomes increasingly divergent, this study will allow essential analysis and comparisons to be made of part-time study across the four UK nations, with particular concern for characteristics and circumstances related to substantial barriers faced by part-time students, including caring responsibilities, disabilities, and working and learning.

Notes to Editors

About the part-time study research

Part-time Now: Barriers To Part-time Learning In The New HE Landscape is a project developed and delivered by the OU, working closely with the NUS. Interim results of the first part of the research from a wide-ranging survey are due in September 2014, with the findings of the final report, involving qualitative research conducted via a series of targeted focus groups, will be presented in Spring 2015.

For more information see the research web page here: :

Statistics on OU students
• For over 40 years the OU’s part-time, flexible learning model has been playing a pivotal role in enhancing social mobility in the UK by enabling individuals, regardless of their background, to fulfil their potential and earn a degree.

• 20% of the OU’s newest undergraduate students are from the 25% most disadvantaged communities in the UK.

• Almost a third of OU students belong to routine or manual socio-economic groups.

• The OU has the largest disabled student community of any UK university, with around 20,000 of its students declaring a disability.

• 62% of new UK undergraduates at the OU have 2 A Levels (or equivalent) or fewer.

• Without the OU, 75% of the OU’s ‘widening participation’ students say they would not have gone to university at all.

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