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With the increase in tuition fees, the rise of technology and the increasing cost of living, more and more students are choosing to study part-time - in 2011, 32,000 new undergraduates enrolling were under 25, which represents 25% of the new students - and this figure is only set to increase. This is welcome news for part-time students as it means that gradually more courses will become available and current courses will become more flexible, while government policy for part-time students will change for the better.
Who Studies Part-Time?
Universities UK note four types of people that study part-time:
- 'career enhancers' - who want to enhance their existing career by acquiring additional skills and qualifications
- 'career changers' - who want to change their career by acquiring new qualifications in a different field
- 'non-career learners' - who may already be qualified at degree level but are interested in continuing or developing their education
- 'career entrants' - who are interested in part-time education to help their career entry, for example young people who are choosing to study part-time or those who want to start a career in later life after bringing up small children
Why Study Part-Time?
- Graduate with the same qualifications as full-time study
- Have the option of working while you study, or taking on other commitments
- Fit studying around your current family or work commitments
- Employers may contribute to your fees
- Same student support and facilities as full-time study
- Meet like-minded people
- If working, have a chance of progressing in your career simultaneously
- Have more money to live on if you are also working
With regards to working, Futuretrack published a report in 2012 which suggested that part-time study improved confidence in the workplace and job performance. It also increased the chances of taking on more responsibilities at work, and receiving a pay rise and promotion. The study found that employees would also start to use the skills they learnt on their course in the workplace, and that they started to reap the benefits of studying long before they completed their course and graduated. Outside of the office, 81% had a positive university experience, while they also found that part-time study helped in their personal development, self confidence and happiness.
Furthermore, employers are supportive of those studying part-time with one study finding that employers believe that those studying part-time become more knowledgeable and better equipped with job-related skills, while they also note positive contributions to productivity and efficiency, and improved staff attitudes and career progression.
However, there are a number of downsides to part-time learning, primarily the fact that you've less chance for the immersive "university experience" that moving away from home and starting afresh offers.
How Part-Time Learning Works
Depending on the course you are undertaking, part-time learning can take anything from two years (e.g. for a Certificate of Higher Education) to more than six years (for a Bachelor's Degree). The timeframe depends on the number of modules you choose to take each year and the amount of free time you have - as most courses are modular, it is often possible to vary your schedule each semester to fit around your other commitments. There are a number of different ways in which you can study part-time, including:
With distance learning you study remotely in your own time and will be given reading and assignments by the university (or insitution you choose to learn with). You'll be given regular support from a tutor, and will be able to interact with fellow students via e-mail, online forums, phone and virtual conferencing. As well as studying remotely, it is likely that you will also have to attend days schools or residential weekends where you will have the chance to meet other course members in person and work with others to tackle some of the subjects you are studying.
Work-based learning is a way of gaining a qualification through the knowledge and skills that you carry out in your workplace. This type of qualification may be especially useful if you are already working in a vocational profession without qualification, for example in an Architecture firm, a Auditing office, in manufacturing, or with children and young people. As the qualification is based around your current employment, you are likely to study for a directly relevant qualification, however you still have the support of universities and colleges, and their tutors.
Apprenticeships are available to those over 16 and not in full-time education, and combine work and training. There are plenty of different career options, as well as different levels which can take between one and four years to complete. For more information, please see our apprenticeships pages.
Blended learning combines self-paced online learning with face-to-face tutorials and lectures. Universities often offer blended learning qualifications with evening or weekend classes.
College-Based HE Learning
Many further education colleges offer higher education courses, such as Higher National Diplomas, Foundation degrees and Bachelor's degrees. (For information about qualifications, please see Higher Education). They also offer other higher level courses such as professional qualifications, teaching qualifications, and Master's degrees. Studying part-time at your local college offers you the ability to undertake courses in the usual fashion whereby you attend lectures and tutorials, and are able to socialise with your class, however you're near enough to home for your other commitments. These higher education courses will be accredited by your local university.
Entry requirements vary from insitution and course - if you are a young person choosing to study part-time, your entry requirements will most likely be similar to those studying on the equivalent full-time course, while if you've not been in education for a while institutions accept a mix of skills and knowledge acquired during work.
If you've already started or completed an accredited higher education course, such as a Foundation degree, HND or part of a degree, you might be able to transfer some of your credit onto your new course through Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL). This might be able to reduce the number of modules you need to take as well as the time needed to undertake your qualification, and, in turn, the cost.
If you don't have the academic qualifications you need, you might be able to use the skills and knowledge you have gained through your other experiences or career via Accreditation of Prior and Experiential Learning (APEL).
If you still don't have the qualifications or experience needed to obtain entry to your chosen course some universities offer preparatory modules to bring you up to speed. Failing that, please see our distance learning section which offers information about further education qualifications - it may be that you need to undertake these before being able to apply for university.
How to Apply
Applications for part-time undergraduate qualifications are made in the same way as full-time applications. For more information please see our Applications pages, while we also list all the part-time courses available in the UK via our Find a Degree pages.
Fees & Finance
If you are studying an undergraduate course flexibly then you could be entitled to a Tuition Fee Loan from the government. There are a number of restrictions, including undertaking a minimum of 25% of the full-time course; not already holding a qualification equal to, or higher than, the one you are studying for; and studying for a specific qualification, including:
- Bachelor's Degree such as a BA, BSc BEd
- Foundation Degree
- Certificate of Higher Education
- Higher National Certificate
- Higher National Diploma
- Postgraduate Certificate of Education
- Intitial Teacher Training
The amount of money you are entitled to borrow depends on the country you live in. Please see your country tab above for more information.
If you live in England and studying part-time at a publicly funded university or college and your course has a ‘course intensity’ of 25% or more, you are entitled to a tuition fee loan of up to £6,935 per year. However, if you are studying at a privately funded university you are entitled up to £4625 or £4,500 per year, depending on the university's Teaching Excellent Framework (TEF) status. The amount that you will receive in any given year depends on the number of credits or modules you are undertaking that year, and you need to complete your degree in no more than four times the time it would take to complete the equivalent full-time degree.
You will start to repay your loan in the April four years after the start of your course or the April after you leave you course - whichever comes first. In the same way as full-time students, you’ll only start making repayments if your income is over £26,575 a year after which you'll pay 9% of any income over £26,575. The interest on your loan will be charged at inflation (RPI) plus 3% while you’re studying and after this you’ll be charged interest on a sliding scale up to inflation (RPI) plus 3%, depending on your income.
If you are disabled you can also apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance which helps with extra costs you may have in relation to your course as a direct result of your disability, long-term health condition, mental-health condition or specific learning difficulty. This includes a specialist equipment allowance of up to £5,849 for the duration of the course, a non-medical helper allowance of up to £17,443 per year, a general allowance of up to £1,465 a year and a non-specified travel allowance. None of the allowances needs to be paid back.
For a full financial details of the part-time funding in England, visit the UK government website.
If you live in Scotland you will be awarded a part-time fee grant of up to £1,805 for publicly funded degree level courses, £1,274 for publicly funded Higher National awards, or £1,195 for private provider courses. The amount you are given depends on the number of credits that you take in that year, for example if you are taking half the credits of someone on a full-time degree you will receive half the money.
They also provide a Disabled Students’ Allowance to help you if you incur extra costs while studying because of disability or learning difficulty.
For a full financial details of the part-time funding in Scotland, visit the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) website.
You can apply for a Tuition Fee Loan to pay for your tuition fees and a Maintenance Loan to help with your living costs. You can also get a Welsh Government Learning Grant (WGLG) too, which you won’t need to pay back. Your Tuition Fee Loan entitlement will be based on your study intensity. Your household income is used to work out the Maintenance Loan and WGLG.
If you are a part-time student studying in Wales you could get a Tuition Fee Loan of up to £6,935 depending on your course intensity. Depending on your household income and intensity of study, you might also be eligible for a Maintenance Loan and WGLG up to £4,433.75 and £4,500, respectively.
You may also be able to apply for additional financial support if you have children or adults who depend on you financially, or if you have a disability, long-term health condition, mental-health condition or specific learning difficulty. The Disability Student’s Allowance includes a specialist equipment allowance of up to £5,849 for the duration of the course, a non-medical helper allowance of up to £17,443 per year, a general allowance of up to £1,465 a year and a non-specified travel allowance. None of the allowances needs to be paid back.
For a full financial details of the part-time funding in Wales, visit the Student Finance Wales website.
If you normally live in Northern Ireland you can apply for the part-time student financial package of a means tested fee grant of up to £1,230, a course grant of up to £265 and a fee loan of up to £3,296.25 regardless of where you are studying in the UK. If you receive a fee grant, the level of fee loan available will be reduced in line with this.
If you wish to do a Higher Education part-time course including Open University courses elsewhere in the UK, you may be charged up to £6,935 in tuition fees. You will therefore have to financially make up the difference between the support available and the tuition fee charged by the Higher Education Institution.
Disabled Students' Allowances are offered to help with the extra costs you may have in relation to your course as a direct result of your disability, long-term health condition, mental-health condition or specific learning difficulty. How much you can get does not depend on your household income but will depend on an individual needs assessment, and may include:
- Specialist equipment allowance - up to £5,266 for the duration of the course
- Non-medical helper allowance - up to £15,703 a year
- General allowance - up to £1,319 a year
- Travel allowance - helps with extra travel costs you may have to pay to travel to your university or college course because of your disability
For a full financial details of the part-time funding in Northern Ireland visit the Student Finance NI website.