Supporting adult learners

The OfS believes that opportunities to study in higher education should be accessible at all stages of life. Age should not be a barrier.

We support different routes into and through higher education, and an environment which helps adult learners and encourages them to pursue further learning.  

Regulation and funding

Access and participation plans set out how higher education providers will improve equality of opportunity for underrepresented groups to access, succeed in and progress from higher education.

We require providers to consider how they support mature students throughout the student lifecycle and set out how they intend to address gaps in performance where they find it.

In 2019 the OfS funded 16 projects across England to improve outcomes for graduates who study and stay in their home region.  

The projects have different aims. They address several priorities, including improving graduate outcomes for adult learners or part-time students who plan to remain in their local area for study and work after study.

As the programme comes to the end of its second year, we continue to share case studies highlighting the work projects are doing, particularly in light of the pandemic.

The Uni Connect programme is part of our strategy to deliver equality of opportunity in higher education.

It provides a single point of contact for schools and colleges through 29 local Uni Connect partnerships. It helps young and adult leaners from underrepresented groups to access the information about higher education that is right for them.

We are taking a new approach to this programme, which includes a stronger focus on engaging adult learners. This includes increasing the focus of Uni Connect partnerships on working with employers and communities to support adult learner participation, including a stronger role for further education colleges.

A postgraduate conversion course enables students to study for a specialist degree in a career area which their first degree or work experience did not prepare them for.

In autumn 2020 we funded 18 universities across England to develop postgraduate conversion courses in artificial intelligence, which are expected to create at least 2,500 graduates.

A key aim of this initiative is to increase diversity and the number of people from underrepresented backgrounds in the fields of artificial intelligence and data science.

Routes through higher education

We have helped the sector to develop and deliver degree apprenticeships. In 2018-19 67.9 per cent of degree apprentices were over 21 when they started their course.

A degree apprenticeship is a particular type of job, which combines work with higher-level learning, and which leads to an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. Apprentices spend most of their week at work but also spend at least 20 per cent of their time in off-the-job study or training.

Tuition fees are paid by employers so apprenticeships can be attractive to adults who want the ability to work while gaining their degree.

Nursing and allied health courses have particularly high numbers of adult learners.

We support providers of health higher education through funding as well as targeted initiatives.

This includes the strategic interventions in health education disciplines (SIHED) programme. This funding aims to develop a better understanding of the student market for nursing, midwifery and allied health courses, including adult learner and male participation.


The future

We expect to see more demand from adults to retrain and study in higher education as we move out of the pandemic and adapt to life outside the European Union.

New lifelong loan entitlements will make learning more affordable for adults without A-levels. At the same time, adult learners have more opportunities in areas like nursing.

During 2021, we will:

  • support more nursing places as we work with Health Education England
  • work with universities and colleges to ensure a greater focus on adult learners in their access and participation plans
  • help Uni Connect partnerships, employers and communities to support adult learner participation, including a stronger role for further education colleges.

Read more

  • Insight brief ‘Improving choice and opportunity for mature students
  • Our topic briefing provides a summary of key facts about adult learners in higher education, actions that providers can take to support them, examples of actions providers have taken and a list of resources.
  • The TASO report ‘Supporting access and student success for mature learners’ looks at ways to help adult learners access higher education and the institutional features that are important to them.
  • See our student stories sharing experiences of applying and studying for a higher education degree.
Published 27 May 2021

Describe your experience of using this website

Improve experience feedback
* *

Thank you for your feedback