1 In this brief, for the sake of readability, we have used ‘universities and colleges’, or sometimes simply ‘universities’, to refer to what our Regulatory framework and other more formal documents call ‘higher education providers’.
2 McCune, Velda, Jenny Hounsell, Hazel Christie, Viviene E Cree, and Lyn Tett, ‘Mature and younger students' reasons for making the transition from further education into higher education’, Teaching in Higher Education, 2010, pp691-702.
3 Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes (TASO), ‘Analysis report: Supporting access and student success for mature learners’, April 2021 (available at https://taso.org.uk/news-item/universities-could-attract-more-mature-learners-by-offering-online-or-blended-learning/).
4 Datafile available to download alongside this brief at www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/improving-opportunity-and-choice-for-mature-students/; Callender, Claire, and John Thomson, ‘The lost part-timers: The decline of part-time undergraduate higher education in England’, 2018 (available at https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10066734/), p20.
5 Learning and Work Institute, ‘Rates of adult participation in learning’ (https://learningandwork.org.uk/what-we-do/lifelong-learning/adult-participation-in-learning-survey/rates-of-adult-participation-in-learning/).
6 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, ‘Adult education level’ (https://data.oecd.org/eduatt/adult-education-level.htm). These statistics define upper secondary education as ‘the final stage of secondary education’ (https://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=5450).
7 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, ‘Enrolment rates of the population aged 25 years or older, by level of education (2018)’ (https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/enrolment-rates-of-the-population-aged-25-years-or-older-by-level-of-education-2018_69b79b87-en).
8 Prospects, ‘Skills shortages in the UK, 2019/20’, December 2019 (available at https://luminate.prospects.ac.uk/skills-shortages-in-the-uk).
9 Office for National Statistics, ‘Labour market overview, UK: May 2021’, (https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/uklabourmarket/may2021).
10 Ford, Megan, ‘Nursing courses see 32% rise in applications during COVID-19’, Nursing Times, 18 February 2021 (https://www.nursingtimes.net/news/education/nursing-courses-see-32-rise-in-applications-during-covid-19-18-02-2021/).
11 Houston, Donald, ‘The unevenness in the local economic impact of COVID-19 presents a serious challenge to the government’s “levelling up” agenda’, November 2020 (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/local-economic-impact-covid19/); Office for National Statistics, ‘Labour market in the regions of the UK: May 2021’ (https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/regionallabourmarket/may2021); Institute for Fiscal Studies, ‘Levelling up: Where and how?’, October 2020 (available at https://ifs.org.uk/books/levelling-where-and-how).
12 OfS, ‘Gravity assist: Propelling higher education towards a brighter future’, March 2021 (available at www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/gravity-assist-propelling-higher-education-towards-a-brighter-future/).
13 Department for Education, ‘Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth’, January 2021 (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/skills-for-jobs-lifelong-learning-for-opportunity-and-growth).
14 OfS, ‘Equality and diversity student data’, www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/equality-and-diversity-student-data/equality-and-diversity-data/
15 Million Plus and National Union of Students, ‘Never too late to learn: Mature students in higher education’, May 2012 (available at https://www.millionplus.ac.uk/policy/reports/never-too-late-to-learn), pp7-8; Sutton, Charlotte E, ‘Does age matter in higher education? Investigating mature undergraduate students’ experiences’, PhD Thesis, 2019 (available at https://leicester.figshare.com/articles/thesis/Does_Age_Matter_in_Higher_Education_Investigating_Mature_Undergraduate_Students_Experiences/10321283), pp71-76.
16 UCAS, ‘Admissions patterns for mature applicants’, August 2018 (available at https://www.ucas.com/file/175936/downl), pp13-14.
17 Weinbren, Daniel, The Open University: A history (2015); Parry, Gareth, and Anne Thompson, ‘Closer by Degrees: The past, present and future of higher education in further education colleges’, 2002 (available at https://dera.ioe.ac.uk//10140/); Fielden, John and Robin Middlehurst, ‘Alternative providers of higher education: Issues for policymakers’, January 2017 (available at https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2017/01/05/3762/), p29.
18 William Whyte, ‘Somewhere to live: Why British students study away from home – and why it matters’, November 2019 (available at https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2019/11/14/somewhere-to-live-why-british-students-study-away-from-home-and-why-it-matters/).
19 Holton, Mark, and Kirsty Finn, ‘Being-in-motion: The everyday (gendered and classed) embodied mobilities for UK university students who commute’, Mobilities, 2018, pp426-40; Holton, Mark, ‘Traditional or non-traditional students? Incorporating UK students’ living arrangements into decisions about going to university’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 2018, pp556-569; Pokorny, H, D Holley and S Kane, ‘Commuting, transitions and belonging: The experiences of students living at home in their first year at university’, Higher Education, 2017, pp543–58.
20 OfS, ‘National Student Survey – NSS: Sector analysis’, (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/student-information-and-data/national-student-survey-nss/sector-analysis/).
21 These other characteristics are sex, ethnicity, mode of study, subject of study, disability status. This gap could be related to a large proportion of mature students learning through long-distance methods or being clustered at a small number of providers.
22 TASO, ‘Summary report: Supporting access and student success for mature learners’, April 2021 (available at https://taso.org.uk/news-item/universities-could-attract-more-mature-learners-by-offering-online-or-blended-learning/), p4.
23 CFE Research, ‘Data use for access and participation in higher education’, February 2020 (available at
24 Datafile available to download alongside this brief at www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/improving-opportunity-and-choice-for-mature-students/.
25 Available to download alongside this brief at www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/improving-opportunity-and-choice-for-mature-students/.
26 Swain, Jon, and Cathie Hammond, ‘The motivations and outcomes of studying for part-time mature students in higher education’, International Journal of Lifelong Education, 2011, pp591-612; McCune, Velda, Jenny Hounsell, Hazel Christie, Viviene E Cree and Lyn Tett, ‘Mature and younger students' reasons for making the transition from further education into higher education’, Teaching in Higher Education, 2010, pp691-702; Busher, Hugh and Nalita James ‘Mature students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and their choices of Access to Higher Education courses’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 2020, p641; TASO, ‘Analysis report: Supporting access and student success for mature learners’, April 2021 (available at https://taso.org.uk/news-item/universities-could-attract-more-mature-learners-by-offering-online-or-blended-learning/).
27 Butcher, John, and John Rose-Adams, ‘Part-time learners in open and distance learning: revisiting the critical importance of choice, flexibility and employability’, Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 2015, pp127-37; Bridgstock, R, 2009, ‘The graduate attributes we’ve overlooked: Enhancing graduate employability through career management skills’, Higher Education Research and Development, 2009, pp31-44.
28 OfS, ‘Analysis of Level 6 and 7 apprenticeships’, May 2020 (available at www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/analysis-of-level-6-and-7-apprenticeships/), p4.
29 OfS, ‘Consistency needed: Care experienced students and higher education’, April 2021 (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/consistency-needed-care-experienced-students-and-higher-education/#Background).
30 Farley, Helen, and Anne Pike, ‘Engaging prisoners in education: Reducing risk and recidivism’, Advancing Corrections: Journal of the International Corrections and Prisons Association, 2016, pp65–73.
31 Refugee Support Network, ‘“I just want to study”: Access to higher education for young refugees and asylum seekers’, February 2012 (available at https://www.reuk.org/resources/13-i-just-want-to-study-access-to-higher-education-for-young-refugees-and-asylum-seekers), pp7-9.
32 ‘Number of UK-domiciled undergraduate students to English higher education providers 2006-07 to 2019-20’, May 2021 (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/official-statistics/published-statistics/).
33Available to download alongside this brief at https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/improving-opportunity-and-choice-for-mature-students/. Note that this analysis is restricted to courses leading to a qualification, which aligns with data we publish on access and participation but means a significant number of mature students will not be in the scope of this analysis. For an indication of the decrease in mature students studying on courses for institutional credit rather than a qualification see Callender, Claire, and John Thomson, ‘The lost part-timers: The decline of part-time undergraduate higher education in England’, 2018 (available at https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10066734/), p20, Figure 4. There is also some higher education provision before 2014-15 not reported, because providers that now submit to the Higher Education Statistics Agency Student Alternative return were not required to report data until that year.
34 House of Commons Library, ‘Higher education student numbers’, February 2021 (available at https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7857/), p26.
35 House of Commons Library, ‘Mature students in England’, February 2021 (available at https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8809/), p21.
36 Callender, Claire, and John Thomson, ‘The lost part-timers: The decline of part-time undergraduate higher education in England’, 2018 (available at https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10066734/), pp24-25.
37 The Open University, ‘Fixing the broken market in part-time study’, November 2017 (available at https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2017/11/16/time-tackle-part-time-crisis/), p8.
38 Callender, Claire, ‘The 2012-13 reforms of student finances and funding in England: The implications for the part-time undergraduate higher education sector’ in Brada, JC, W Bienkowski and M Kuboniwa (eds) International Perspectives on Financing Higher Education, 2015, pp80-97
https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/42796/1/published%20Poland%20PT%20students%2018-06-2014%202.pdf [PDF], pp9-10.
39 Department for Education, ‘Post-18 choice of part-time study’, May 2019 (available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-18-choice-of-part-time-study), p49.
40 Callender, Claire, ‘Putting part-time students at the heart of the system?’, Higher Education Policy Institute, 2015 (available at https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2015/10/29/finance-stupid-decline-part-time-higher-education/), p21.
41 Universities UK, ‘UUK Review of part‐time and mature higher education: Survey of stakeholder evidence’, October 2013 (available at https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/26225/1/PowerOfPartTime.pdf), p6.
42 Butcher, John, ‘“Shoe-horned and side-lined”? Challenges for part-time learners in the new HE landscape’, July 2015 (available at https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/shoe-horned-and-side-lined-challenges-part-time-learners-new-he-landscape)
), pp21, 26-27.
43 Callender, Claire, ‘Putting part-time students at the heart of the system?’, Higher Education Policy Institute, 2015 (available at https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2015/10/29/finance-stupid-decline-part-time-higher-education/), pp21-22, 31.
44 Learning and Work Institute, ‘Rates of adult participation in learning’ (https://learningandwork.org.uk/what-we-do/lifelong-learning/adult-participation-in-learning-survey/rates-of-adult-participation-in-learning/).
45 Oxford Economics, ‘Macroeconomic influences on the demand for part-time higher education in the UK’, April 2014 (available at https://www.voced.edu.au/content/ngv%3A62328, p14.
46 Department for Education, ‘Skills for jobs: Lifelong learning for opportunity and growth’, January 2021 (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/skills-for-jobs-lifelong-learning-for-opportunity-and-growth).
47 UCAS, ‘Admissions patterns for mature applicants’, August 2018 (available at https://www.ucas.com/file/175936/downl), p15.
48 OfS, ‘Maps showing the distribution of higher education places in England, 2017-18’ (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/annual-review-2019/a-new-approach-to-fair-access-participation-and-success/#beforeofs).
49 Providers are categorised according to their tariff group, using the same methodology as in our key performance measure 2 (available at www.officeforstudents.org.uk/about/measures-of-our-success/participation-performance-measures/gap-in-participation-at-higher-tariff-providers-between-the-most-and-least-represented-groups/). Higher tariff providers are the top third of English higher education providers when ranked by average tariff score of UK domiciled undergraduate entrants. Tariff scores are defined using Higher Education Statistics Agency data from academic years 2012-13 to 2014-15.
50 Henderson, Holly, ‘Place and student subjectivities in higher education “cold spots”’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 2019, pp331-45.
51 Available to download alongside this brief at https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/improving-opportunity-and-choice-for-mature-students/
52 OfS, ‘Access and participation data dashboard’ (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/access-and-participation-data-dashboard/).
53 Lavender, Kate, Mature students’ experiences of undertaking higher education in English vocational institutions: Employability and academic capital’, International Journal of Training Research (2021).
54 Prospects, ‘What do graduates do? Regional edition’, October 2019 (available at https://luminate.prospects.ac.uk/what-do-graduates-do-regional-edition), p32.
55 OfS. ‘Improving outcomes for local graduates’ (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/skills-and-employment/improving-outcomes-for-local-graduates/).
56 OfS, ‘Access and participation data dashboard’ (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/access-and-participation-data-dashboard/).
57 As a result of the pandemic, a number of providers made changes to assessment and classification arrangements to ensure students were not disadvantaged by the impact of COVID-19 when it came to assessment in 2019-20. Providers did not adopt a single approach, and as a result, the impact of these changes will have varied from provider to provider. It is not possible to determine the extent to which these actions by providers may have influenced the increase in attainment rates seen between 2018-19 and 2019-20.
58 OfS, ‘Access and participation data dashboard’ (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/access-and-participation-data-dashboard/).
59 OfS, ‘Access and participation data dashboard’ (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/access-and-participation-data-dashboard/).
60 Farmer, Julie, ‘Mature access: The contribution of the Access to Higher Education diploma’, Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 2017, pp63-72.
61 OfS, ‘Access and participation data dashboard’ (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/access-and-participation-data-dashboard/).
62 Busby, Eleanor, Evening Standard, ‘More people sign up for Open University online courses amid pandemic’, 6 May 2021 (https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/open-university-england-students-kent-government-b933492.html).
63 UCAS, ‘Nursing applications soar’, February 2021 (https://www.ucas.com/corporate/news-and-key-documents/news/nursing-applications-soar-ucas-publishes-latest-undergraduate-applicant-analysis).
64 O’Donnell, M, and L Schulz, 2020, ‘Learning design meets service design for innovation in online learning at scale’, in McKenzie, S, M Mundy, F Garivaldis and K Dyer (eds), The Tertiary Online Teaching and Learning (TOTAL) Guide.
65 Gütl, C, RH Rizzardini, V Chang, and M Morales, ‘Attrition in MOOC: Lessons learned from drop-out students’ in Uden, L, J Sinclair, YH Tao and D Liberona (eds), Learning Technology for Education in Cloud: MOOC and Big Data, 2014, pp37-48.
66 OfS, ‘Gravity assist: Propelling higher education towards a brighter future’, March 2021 (available at www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/gravity-assist-propelling-higher-education-towards-a-brighter-future/), p65.
67 Discover Uni, ‘Over 21 and starting uni?’ (https://discoveruni.gov.uk/over-21-and-starting-uni/).
68 OfS, 'Supporting adult learners' (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/skills-and-employment/supporting-adult-learners/).
69 OfS, ‘Health education funding’ (www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/funding-for-providers/health-education-funding/strategic-interventions-in-health-education-disciplines/).