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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.