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Part-time first years up by 4.2%

Most choose part-time study to assist current career; Foundation degrees show continued growth

An increase in part-time first years of 4.2 per cent was recorded in 2003/04 to 406,550 from 390,095 in 2002/03. The statistics are released today by the Higher Education Statistics Agency from the 2003/04 Student Record. Overall, this rise contributed to a 2.6 per cent growth of the part-time student body of all years of study to 812,475 in 2003/04 from 791,625 in 2002/03. Part-time students consist 41.7 per cent of all higher education students.

62.4 per cent (507,345) of part-time students in 2003/04 were women. This represents an increasing division in the gender gap with women consisting of 61.6 per cent (487,825) of part-time students in 2002/03. The majority of part-time students were also aged 30 and over at 71.1 per cent (569,095). This represents little change in the age demographics of part-time students between 2003/04 and 2002/03.

The majority of part-time students were other undergraduates. This includes students on programmes below degree level such as Foundation Degrees, Higher National Diplomas and Higher National Certificates (HNDs and HNCs). 45.6 per cent (370,480) of part-time students were studying at this level.

While the proportion of part-time students who are postgraduates has remained static at 31.2 per cent (253,635) the proportion studying at first degree level rose from 13.1 per cent (103,545) to 23.2 per cent (188,360). Compared to 2002/03, this reflects a rise in first degree part-time students of 81.9 per cent.6

Examining location of study shows that nearly three quarters (73.2 per cent) of part-time students attend their HE institution to study. Almost all other part-time students (26.7 per cent) were involved in UK-based distance learning in 2003/04. This compares to 74.1 per cent and 25.8 per cent respectively in 2002/03.

Information on why part-time students choose to study can be obtained from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey 2002/03. This voluntary survey is carried out annually and the questions asked below formed part of the survey for part-time leavers. For UK domiciled part-time leavers the response rate was 70.8 per cent. The 2002/03 survey is the most recent data available.

When asked “what motivated you to take the course?” 55.3 per cent (22,600) said that they thought it would help them to get on in their current career or job. A further 23.2 per cent (9,480) said they took the course because of their interest in the subject matter. 13.6 per cent (5,540) took the course to help them change career or job and 7.9 per cent (3,240) for “other” reasons. 69.7 per cent of respondents answered this question.

Part-time leavers were also asked “were you employed during your course or immediately before it?”. 91.3 per cent (20,250) answered yes to this question and 8.7 per cent (1,935) answered no. 37.9 per cent of respondents answered this question. However, this percentage is calculated including leavers who responded by telephone who were not asked this question.3 Within the “yes” group the proportion taking a part-time course to help them get on in their current job increases to 51.4 per cent (10,285).

Leavers who were employed during or immediately before their course were asked about support arrangements, for example whether tuition fees were paid, study leave provided etc. for their course. 25.0 per cent (4,635) of such leavers said that they did not receive any support from their employer at all. The next largest group, 19.7 per cent (3,650), said that their tuition fees were paid for them. 13.6 per cent (2,515) had their tuition fees paid and were given study leave. 91.4 per cent of those employed before or during their course answered this question.

Foundation degrees, HNDs and HNCs

The number of Foundation degree entrants increased in 2003/04 by 61.6 per cent. This is a rise from 8,295 in 2002/03 to 13,405. Overall, 21,015 students were studying on Foundation degree programmes at UK HEIs in 2003/04. This data relates to Foundation degree enrolments at UK publicly-funded higher education institutions. It does not include data relating to students studying Foundation degrees at further education colleges. In contrast, the numbers of HND and HNC entrants fell by 19.6 (16,380) and 9.2 per cent (9,720) respectively.

The way students chose to study for a Foundation degree is split equally between full-time (49.3 per cent) and part-time (50.7 per cent) modes. However, 84.6 per cent of HND students chose to study full-time compared to just 11.0 per cent of HNC students.

65.7 per cent of first year Foundation degree students were women, compared to 64.1 per cent in 2002/03. Of these women 81.7 per cent were mature students, that is, aged 21 or over. The same figure in 2002/03 was 80.8 per cent. When looking at both genders, 72.8 per cent of first year Foundation degree students are mature. While first year HNC students also tend to be mature (71.6 per cent) the majority of HND students, 62.4 per cent, are aged 20 and under.

Number of first year students at specified levels of study by academic year
  2003/04 2002/03
  Foundation degree HND HNC Foundation degree HND HNC
Subjects allied to medicine 1085 265 365 665 230 160
Biological sciences 375 620 200 145 755 155
Veterinary science 0 20 0 0 40 30
Agriculture & related subjects 555 810 340 240 1055 325
Physical sciences 100 130 135 90 195 170
Mathematical sciences 55 20 0 45 30 0
Computer science 1050 3365 1310 780 4800 1670
Engineering & technology 1015 2070 2430 655 2365 2755
Architecture, building & planning 125 830 1480 145 715 1575
Social studies 1350 370 595 1210 570 580
Law 35 145 40 15 115 75
Business & administrative studies 1640 4545 2185 1025 5635 2345
Mass communications & documentation 255 470 40 140 460 160
Languages 0 5 10 0 20 0
Historical & philosophical studies 55 5 20 0 10 0
Creative arts & design 1290 2305 415 875 2745 570
Education 4425 395 160 1750 645 140
Combined 0 5 0 515 0 0
Total 13405 16380 9720 8295 20380 10705

Notes to editors

  1. Press enquiries should be directed to:
  2. Data in this press release relates to UK domiciled students only. Students whose attributes are recorded as unknown have been excluded from percentage calculations. Data on students is sourced from the HESA Student Record 2002/03 and 2003/04. Data on leavers is sourced from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education 2002/03.
  3. The Destinations of Leavers from HE Survey can be responded to in a variety of ways, for example on paper, online or through a telephone survey. Leavers who respond to the telephone survey are asked only a subset of the questions included in the full paper survey. Some questions referred to in this press release, those relating to employment before or during the leavers course and the support arrangements in place, are not included in this subset. This will have an effect upon the proportion of respondents answering these questions.
  4. Due to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, HESA implements a strategy in published and released tabulations designed to prevent the disclosure of personal information about any individual. These tabulations are derived from the HESA non-statutory populations and may differ slightly from those published by related statutory bodies. This strategy involves rounding all numbers to the nearest 5. A summary of this strategy is as follows:
    • 0, 1, 2 are rounded to 0
    • All other numbers are rounded to the nearest 5.

    So for example 3 is represented as 5, 22 is represented as 20, 3286 is represented as 3285 while 0, 20, 55, 3510 remain unchanged.

  5. The HESA reference volumes Students in Higher Education Institutions 2003/04 and Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education 2002/03 are annual publications. They are available to the public from HESA Customer Services, telephone 01242 211155 for more information.


  1. Open University change in reporting practice

    Data returned by the Open University in 2003/04 now provides a split between part-time first degree students and other undergraduate students. This is due to changes in reporting practice made according to HEFCE funding requirements. Previously students taking Open University credits were returned as studying at other undergraduate level or other postgraduate level, although the credits gained could count towards the award of a first degree or postgraduate degree. In 2003/04 Open University students were reported according to their recorded award intention and the broad subject of that award intention at the HESA return date. It should be noted that Open University students do not have to declare an award intention and many are still reported as studying for institutional credit within the "combined" subject of study. This has had the affect of apparently reducing part-time other undergraduate numbers. This has also affected the number of records returned as students who linked modules to two distinct qualification aims have been returned in two records. This change only affects enrolment data.


Press Release

Press Officer