Open University student numbers fell 12.2% in 2014/15

The number of students studying at The Open University has fallen for the 5th consecutive year, according to figures released by The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

Data for student enrolments in 2014/15 were¬†published a few days ago. It makes dismal reading for HE part-timers. Overall, the number of part-time students fell 6%, to below 600,000. This compares to the 800,000 recorded in 2010/11. Chart 1 of HESA’s analysis provides the details.

The 6% fall is concerning enough, but the decline in Open University student numbers has been even more dramatic. Overall, across the OU in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, HESA reports total student numbers at 132,365. This is 18,470 (12.2%) fewer than reported in 2013/14.

The data shows that 11.4% fewer students are Open University undergraduates, making a total of 122,805. Postgraduate numbers have sunk to 9,560, down 21.8% on 2013/14. The full breakdown of figures across all UK HE providers can be found in Table 3 (Microsoft .xlsx format).

I’ve added this data onto the chart that I’ve been keeping for the last few years and it’s – well – terrifying.

Open University Student Numbers 2008-09 to 2014-15I continue to fear for the future of part-time education under the Conservatives. However, no political party is blameless in this unfolding scandal. Labour damaged the sector by withdrawing ELQ funding. The coalition rarely acknowledged that the sector existed. They understood it even less. They were particularly bad at recognising that the needs of mature, part-timers are very different from those of young, full-time students.

We’re still a little way from the end of OU transitional fees in England. The majority of Open University undergraduates live there, so I expect that the next couple of years will be equally tough. I hope the Open University survives. I hope that part-time education as a whole survives too! There’s no doubt that it is a significant enabler of social mobility. But as the Conservatives continue their relentless attack on aspiration elsewhere, I’m not confident that my hope is rational.

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Reader Comments

  1. busysuzi

    I don’t think it’s just the fees that are putting people off. When you look at people’s lifestyles nowadays, who has time to study if they still work full time? Working hours are getting longer and many people have more than one job to make ends meet because the cost of living is becoming more expensive. Commuting to work is also brcoming a more time consuming process for many.

    If people have families, they also need some quality time with their partners and children rather than constantly being shut in a room and never being able to play with growing children, particularly if they already work long hours.

    Therefore, as I questioned at the beginning, where is the time for study without sitting up all night? This is impossible as I defy anybody to be able to work, drive, study, keep a house, play with children, walk the dog, etc., on very little little sleep. All for about seven months of a year, for six years running if they’re studying for an Undergraduate degree. Bear in mind that once you hit the two Stage 2 and two Stage 3 it gets tougher and tougher.

    Then, of course, if you do manage to pass your Undergraduate degree and you’re going on to study for a Postgraduate degree and a Master’s degree these will be tougher still! You’ll need even more peace and quiet and even more study time…

    Think on Open University! Maybe we students need a little more help and encouragement from you, not just the government. There’s definitely not enough OUSA groups. There’s certainly not one in my area to meet up with fellow students and go over studies or just have a chat and a coffee!

    • tim

      That’s a really interesting perspective – thank you for commenting!

      On the subject of working hours, the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development wrote in July 2015, “… although employees feel they are working harder, it’s not because they are working longer hours. Average hours worked per year have been falling for decades. The proportion of employees that usually work over 45 hours each week has fallen from 26% in 1997 to under 20% in 2013.” – see:

      Maybe the problem isn’t the amount of free time that people have after work, but that they feel too worn out to study – especially if they’re juggling family commitments around it?


      • JJ

        I think it is down to costs. The Open University was never intended to be the same as, or compete with the conventional universities. If was amazing when you could study with the OU in your own time and pay reasonable fees for your course. If you live in England – you only have to look at the costs. I don’t expect to be studying with the OU in the future. Very sad.

  2. David

    I have written before regarding the massive increase in O.U course fees for Southern Ireland and European students. One of the main reason why I no longer study with Open University is the crazy costs. I did take my first degree with them and had hoped to take a second purely for personal growth and development. No way would I benefit financially by doing further courses. Life long learning is not motivated by financial rewards. However when you are asked to pay multiples of thousands for ”a correspondence” albeit wonderful courses. You have to make decisions like keeping food in the house, paying rent feeding the cats. I’m retired and would have loved to study further. Unfortunately I am no longer a supporter of a bloated educational organisation that has lost its way. How can they say they are open to all. The O.U Motto of Learn and Live is a bit of a farce.

    • Richard Addison

      I beg to disagree. I have found the chance there again and again. The problem is my own short coming. Discipline or lack thereof, far too many other distractions and excuses. A failure to be able to make decisions, a failure to count on myself, but looking repeatedly for help from others. In short not enough confidence capital. Ask any student and they will tell you that the cost is not the fee, but on the personal commitment and investment, the time and effort a student has to put in. @OpenUniversity, #PartTimeMatters.

  3. Sarah

    I completed my Degree through the OU and was one of the last to be able to do this before huge rises in fees. I thank my lucky stars that I got in just in time. Despite working and raising a young family I loved studying and will be forever grateful to the OU. I think it’s shameful that this opportunity has been denied to future people like me. If you don’t have enough cash you are unable to study. I would have done further courses, as people I know used to do, purely for the love of learning. No chance of that now. It’s so awful and so sad for so many who would have loved to enrol.

Your thoughts?