Open University student enrolments fall 44% since 2009/10

In the year that the Open University celebrates its 50th anniversary, the annual higher education student statistics release from HESA (*) paints a gloomy picture for lifelong learners. Overall part-time student enrolments continue to decline, but have been offset by older learners deciding to study full-time. This shift could be due to the unequal treatment of student loans for part and full-time students, but the data doesn’t exist to be certain.

The main part-time HE provider in the UK, the Open University, continues to see a year on year fall in enrolments. This decline dates back to 2010/11. Numbers have fallen by a massive 91,770 from the peak in 2009/10 –  approximately 44%. This year’s fall amounts to another 3,500 lost enrolments, resulting in a year on year decline of approximately 3%.

Open University student enrolments 2008/09 - 2017/18
Open University student enrolments 2008/09 – 2017/18

After a turbulent 2018 which saw vice-chancellor Peter Horrocks resign, the Open University enters its 50th anniversary year looking for a replacement.

As a proud OU alumnus, the continuing decline of what should be a thriving institution continues to enrage me. Poor decisions made under the last three governments (Labour, Coalition and Conservative-DUP) are the main cause of the decline.

As a Liberal Democrat, I wonder when Vince Cable’s commission on lifelong learning is going to report. Spring conference perhaps? Others have noticed this deafening silence too.



(*) HESA statistical releases are made under the creative commons attribution 4.0 international (CC BY 4.0) licence. The full release for 2017/18 (supported by interactive query tools) is available here.

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Reader Comments

  1. Alan Brenville

    Hi Tim, and thanks for your interesting website.

    Ah the joys of the ‘Higher’ education / Lifelong Learning theme ; I could rant for hours on this one but I’ll try to keep it as pithy as possible.
    It seems to me that :-
    1) So-called education is anything but education these sad days. It is big business no more than that. Many universities today are re-branded technical colleges. Nothing wrong with the old tech college but lets not hoodwink our youth with this inflated educational status.
    2. If you listen to the incoherent and logically-inconsistent “arguments” of many of todays graduates it makes one disappointed to be a member of the human species. Also, with welcome but very rare exceptions, there is no original thought any more.
    3. All real education is self education. Universities in the main, enable you to repeat the contents of lectures. They were once institutions that enabled young people to think rigorously and marshal sound arguments, expressed in articulate English. That was a very long time ago, granted, but there seems to be no remaining embers of this former glory.
    4. I’m all in favour of lifelong learning but none of us need dedicated buildings, courses, lecturers, laptops and all the other extraneous paraphernalia and inflated course fees to achieve this. Neither do we need spoon-feeding. What is needed is the will and motivation to learn ; books (many available cheaply from charity shops) ; A desktop computer is very useful, though not crucial to the learning process though, I agree, it does make the task easier when used for necessary tasks and information searching.
    5.The majority of these points are, I believe, validated by the disgraceful (the shame of England and Wales) situation where young people start there working life (if they are fortunate enough to find work) massively in debt to the government for the ‘privilege’ of having an education. An education that is no more than either a “job ticket” at best, or part of the state indoctrination increasingly present in the U.K., at worst.

    So in summary, I’m in favour of reading, learning in all its variety, self-evaluation, self-improvement ,self-questioning, argument and discussion. I’m not in favour of formal learning “packages” or state education.

    Far from being ‘gloomy’, I would like to think that the student enrolment decline you have noticed is a healthy sign of people waking up to the great education con.

Your thoughts?