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OFFA appoints HESA and CFE Research to conduct research project


OFFA (Office for Fair Access) has commissioned HESA and CFE Research to conduct research into effective part-time provision for undergraduates in English institutions, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This follows the continued decline in part-time numbers.


With CFE Research, we will investigate disadvantaged students’ access to part-time education and how it has changed over time. Using HESA data that is already available, and running our own survey of existing part-time students at a sample of institutions, we will gather data on students’ motivations for studying part-time and identify the barriers and enablers to access and progression.

The survey data will be linked to HESA’s existing data to enable us to create one single data source. Alongside the survey, we will undertake case studies at a sub-sample of HE institutions that will be identified through initial trend analysis of HESA’s part-time data. The findings from both the linked survey and case studies will be used to provide insights for institutions seeking to recruit and tailor their support for different groups of part-time students, as well as improving access and provision across the sector.

The research will include four main phases, with the final key findings being delivered in April:

1 Analysis of part-time study trends and selection of institutions for the survey and case studies using HESA data

This phase of the research has already begun as we start to gain a better understanding of the part-time sector and the demographics of the students. Based on this analysis, we will select a sample of institutions to help us with the survey, including:

  • institutions that specialise in part-time HE
  • those that are bucking the overall trend of a decline in the part-time sector
  • those which have seen significant changes in their provision

Interviews with staff will enable a clear understanding of the issues of part-time provision.

We will also use this phase to select four institutions to act as case studies for the research.

This will involve interviews with members of staff to gain a better understanding of the factors which impact on part-time provision at the institutional level, current delivery methods, and the wider support offered to students.

2 Survey of part-time students and institution case studies

CFE logo

As the survey design is being finalised, our partners at CFE Research will contact institutions to ask for their help to distribute it to part-time students. They will also contact the four institutions identified as the potential case studies to confirm their involvement and contribution to the project. 

3 Linking survey data to HESA data

We will link the survey results to existing HESA data to build a single, linked dataset. This will allow us to analyse both the survey and trend data together which will produce more valuable insights than if they were analysed separately. We will begin to build knowledge on different groups of part-time students, which we can use together with the case study findings to draw our conclusions.

4 Findings and dissemination

We will be back in the New Year with a further update, once we have selected the institutions for both the survey and the case studies.

Once we complete the linked survey analysis and case study work, we can begin to draw the first inferences from the research. We will present these findings through a range of media including this blog, so watch this space.

This is an important project to be a part of and we hope it can make a real difference in a vital area in higher education.

Contact the Analysis team at HESA


Matt Clarke

Matt Clarke

Data Content and Insight Lead