An increase in tuition fees has been blamed for the “collapse” of part-time study.
Inflexible courses and a lack of good quality information and advice are also said to be contributing to the decline in part-time student numbers, according to a publication by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).
The organisations who published the collection of essays said they help explain the “catastrophic” fall in part-time student numbers.
Between 2010/11 and 2014/15, students starting part-time courses fell by nearly 143,000, from 258,885 to 116,025.
The publication – It’s The Finance, Stupid! The Decline Of Part-time Higher Education And What To Do About It – suggests funding rules should be changed to provide more support for second-chance students and those studying a one or two modules rather than a full course.
Nick Hillman, the director of HEPI, wrote in the foreword: “The collapse in part-time study is arguably the single biggest problem facing higher education at the moment.
“There are other challenges too, such as the future of the research environment, how to assess the quality of teaching and dealing with the effects of marketisation. But it is the fall in part-time learning that is probably the biggest black spot.”
He added that part-time numbers had fallen more in England than other parts of the UK with lower fees, but said the decline began before the £9,000 fees were introduced, meaning other factors are also to blame.
Peter Horrocks, the vice-chancellor of The Open University and the author of the opening chapter, said: “For too long the focus of higher education policy has been on the traditional university route of school leavers heading into full-time study.
“As this collection shows, part-time higher education has a key role to play in boosting productivity, contributing to economic growth and driving social mobility.
“Alongside our calls for the reversal of the policy to refuse loans for most second degrees, this paper is full of proposals which, if taken seriously, would help the Government deliver on its promise to support the most aspirational people in our society.”