The overwhelming majority of learners studying Access to HE Diplomas are aged 21 and over – defined as “mature learners”. So the decision to focus on the worrying decline in mature learners in higher education was highly topical.

These are the key messages.

  • People are living longer and may have multiple careers. The job for life is no longer feasible. So making it easier for people to return to learning is critical. “This means that we all have to look at education in a very different light” (Mark Malcomson CBE, Chair of the OCN London board).
  • The numbers of mature part-time and full-time learners in higher education has declined by 61 per cent since 2010, according to recent research from the Office of Fair Access (OFFA). This amounts to a drop of 45,000 in student numbers. This needs to be addressed, but there are concerns that the focus in government is on younger students. (Professor Les Ebdon CBE, Director of  Fair Access to Education – OFFA).
  • Although HE institutions have made positive progress overall in meeting targets, the least progress was made with part-time and mature learners, both in access and student success. “All institutions have a responsibility to consider how to support part-time and mature learners”. (Les Ebdon)
  • Solutions include bespoke information, advice and guidance (IAG) for mature learners, flexible provision, online courses, free taster courses, a wider choice of campuses, better outreach work and student shadowing opportunities. “I want to see  community-wide good practice - a hub of activity. We need to be more ambitious and confident in supporting adult learners”. (Les Ebdon)
  • There should be a strong campaigning element to those involved in Access to HE provision. We need to push the argument that older learners matter – to the economy and social mobility. (Peter Mayhew-Smith, Group Principal and CEO of the South Thames College Group)
  • There is an urgent need to provide the right skills needs for our country and examine whether our delivery methods are fit for purpose. “We must challenge practice and support improvements, based on feedback from learners “. (Peter Mayhew-Smith)

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