Part Timers in the Browne Review

The big news today is that the Browne Review is out – Securing A Sustainable Future for Higher Education.

The coverage isn’t very focused on part-time provision, but obviously that’s the most interesting bit for us at the Open University. So here’s a quick summary.

The headlines for part timers:

  • Part-time students will be eligible for loans to cover the upfront costs of fees. [At the moment, they are not.]
  • They will have to study at an intensity of 1/3 FTE to be eligible for this support – that’s 40 points a year minimum in OU terms. [From memory, average OU study intensity is closer to 60 points a year, but we do have many students who take just one 10-point course.]
  • Part time students will not be eligible for support for living costs.


(cc) Reinante on Flickr


Here are the significant parts of the report that touch on part-time provision:


Those studying for a degree part time will be given proportionate access to funding to those studying full time.

The Principles, number 06, p5


The current system requires part time students to pay upfront. This puts people off from studying part time and it stops innovation in courses that combine work and study. In our proposal the upfront costs for part time students will be eliminated, so that a wider range of people can access higher education in a way that is convenient for them.

Evaluation of the current system, p22-23


Part time students do not have the same access as full time students to support paying fees. Part time students have to pay fees upfront; full time students can defer the fees until they are earning. This means that students may choose full time study even though part time study may better suit their circumstances; and institutions might focus on full time courses they provide rather than explore innovative modes of part time study.

The lack of support for part time study makes it much more difficult for this country to catch up with other countries on the skill levels of the existing workforce. Individuals who are already in work and do not have a higher education qualification are usually unlikely to give up their jobs and enter full time study. Part time study may be a realistic option for them, but access to part time study is hampered by the lack of Government support. The potential exists to combine the experience of individuals already in work with the skills that higher education can provide; but it is not being exploited

Principles, p26-27


The current system requires part time students to pay upfront. This puts people off from studying part time and it stops innovation in courses that combine work and study.

Yet the benefits of higher education are not reserved for those who study full time. Already, close to 40% of undergraduate students in English higher education institutions choose to study part time. Some are young students who opt for part time study over full time study; most are older students who are returning to education after a period in work or looking after children; many of them did not follow the typical route through school, and higher education provides them with a ‘second chance’.

As economic growth relies more on people with high level skills, it is likely to be through part time rather than full time study that people already in the workforce will be able to retrain and prepare themselves for work in new industries. Research shows that, three years after graduation, those who had studied for their first degree part time had a higher average salary than those who had studied full time, were more likely to be in a graduate job, and were more likely to have remained in employment ever since they graduated.

In our proposals, the upfront costs for part time students will be eliminated, so that a wider range of people can access higher education in a way that is convenient for them.

Enhancing the role of student choice, p34

We envisage that, even after the UCAS review, there will remain some applicants who do not have qualifications that convert into tariff points. The mission of higher education to reach out to everyone who has the potential to benefit means that, for example, applicants with work experience rather than formal qualifications should have the opportunity to seek entry. This will be an issue for some applicants for full time study and a more significant issue for applicants for part time study where we expect that many of them will be seeking to enter higher education later in life as a ‘second chance’ to develop their skills rather than direct from school.

The Student Finance Plan, p36



We recommend that the same upfront support for the costs of learning is extended to part time students as well. Higher education will be free at the point of entry for all students, regardless of the mode of study, giving them more choice about how they choose to study – and where.


Completing a degree by part time study provides further flexibility. The intensity of part time study is conventionally related to the time it would take to complete the course by studying full time – so where a part time student undertakes a degree that would normally take a full time student three years to complete and intends to do it over six years, the student’s intensity of study is said to be 50%.

Though it is less likely that a student will complete the degree when the period of study required is longer, there is evidence to show that useful learning outcomes can be achieved below 50% intensity, and that in fact the clearest split between completion and non completion of a degree course falls not at 50% intensity but at 30%.

We propose therefore that entitlement to support for costs of learning will begin at an intensity equivalent to one third of the full time equivalent – 33%. This is a simpler measure for students and institutions than the 30% threshold mentioned in the evidence as it can be readily translated into an equivalent number of modules of study. The maximum period of support will be nine years.

The aim of these recommendations is that all prospective entrants to higher education will be able to study in the way that suits their circumstances without having to pay upfront.

The Student Finance Plan, p40

Unlike the support for the costs of learning, the support for the costs of living will not be available to part time students. These students are able to combine study with work; and they have access to other Government benefits in a way that full time students do not.

Update: Martin Bean, the OU’s VC, has welcomed the report, saying ““The Browne Review marks the end of a two-tier system which until now has disadvantaged part-time students.”

This work by Doug Clow is copyright but licenced under a Creative Commons BY Licence. (Apart from the quotations from the Browne report, obviously.)
No further permission needed to reuse or remix (with attribution), but it’s nice to be notified if you do use it.

Author: dougclow

Data scientist, tutxor, project leader, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist, online learning expert, and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in a wide range of contexts and industries.

4 thoughts on “Part Timers in the Browne Review”

  1. Thanks for this, interesting about the part time split. I wonder if this will apply to Disabled Students’ Allowances which are currently 50% of full time restricted and not always avalable for part time distance learning students (and causes all manner of difficulties for the student and disability support).

    I’m still not keen on the no living expenses option given that even 30% study could make one ineligible for certain Government benefits – and assumes one has a job.

    I suspect I’m going to have to read the report in full myself sometime as I’m still not keen on the fees aspect of it from what I hear 2ndary sources.

    1. Yes, the detail of the interaction with benefits and DSA is going to be really important, and isn’t even touched on in the Report.

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