Blog: 2017

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Top tips for starting a distance learning adventure in 2018

A pink note reading "Happy New Year" next to two filled champagne flutes and a silver party ribbon

With the festive season in full swing, plans and resolutions for 2018 are rapidly approaching. If your 2018 ambitions include a return to study via distance learning, why not use the next few weeks to identify a course that offers the support you need?

For distance learners, support offered by their course provider is key to shaping the overall learning experience. Gaining access to the right support from registration through to collecting your results will transform your 2018 learning experience from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

From registration to results, our top tips for comparing course provider support...

1. Registration: Access advice and support from day one

A good course provider will offer lots of support to ensure you choose the right course, before you register. Once you’re enrolled, guidance should be on-hand to help you get started.

NEC's approach

As well as information and downloadable course samples, our course advice team are happy to talk through any questions you have prior to registration. We want to ensure you make an informed choice, that’s right for you. When you enrol on an NEC course you’ll receive a confirmation email, plus immediate contact from your personal tutor.

2. Learn: Expect quality in both teaching and materials

When considering course providers, explore how they ensure the quality and depth of their teaching support and course materials. These elements will shape your entire learning experience.

NEC's approach

NEC tutors are experts in their subject area and the majority have a degree in their field of study, plus a teaching qualification.

NEC course materials are specially written and structured for independent study by our team of expert writers. They are carefully structured to build knowledge and skills in a way that meets assessment and exam requirements.

NEC materials include:

  • Engaging content develops interest in the subject
  • Getting started guidance and videos
  • Course plans, activities and quizzes
  • Guidance on answering exam questions
  • Assignments to submit to a personal tutor
  • Personal learning journal

Visit the courses section of our website to request sample materials.

3. Learn: Use expert knowledge to enhance learning

Some course providers use a pool of tutors to support students and assess work. Others provide a named, personal tutor for every student – offering consistent expert support throughout the course.

NEC's approach

We feel it is important to provide one-to-one tutor support for students, throughout a course. This approach offers consistency, as well as the opportunity to build a teacher-student rapport. As soon as you register on an NEC course you will be assigned a personal tutor who will offer support, guidance and feedback throughout and mark your assignments and coursework.

4. Assess: Ask if your exam place will be guaranteed

Booking an exam at a suitable centre can be tricky, stressful and time-consuming. Finding a course provider that manages the exam process will allow you to focus on studying for exam success.

NEC's approach

We are the only course provider to guarantee an exam place for all our students. We also provide an Exam Booking Service to take care of the entire process on behalf of students. Our experience as an exam centre, alongside long-term partnerships with 15 centres around the UK, allows us to resolve any issues, to deliver a professional, stress-free service on exam day.

5. Results: Review past results - does the course deliver?

Although distance learning is not all about hard results - a lot of people study our courses for leisure purposes or simply to gain more knowledge in a subject they are passionate about. It is good to have an understanding of what the pass rate is for the course you’re interested in before you choose a provider – after investing all that hard work and study, you may want to achieve the best results possible.

NEC's approach

We have a very high pass rate. To give you an example, for the summer 2016 exam session, we received a 100% pass rate for our IGCSEs and GCSEs. We hope these tips help you to plan your next learning adventure.

If you have any further questions please contact us on our free advice line – we’re here to help.

Call: 0800 389 2839
Monday to Friday: 8.00 – 19.00
Saturday & Sunday: 8.00 – 17.00
Or access our Course Guide.

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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Finding a way to pay for your learning

Photo credit: Nick Youngson -

If you’re looking for help toward funding an online or distance learning course, it can be difficult to know where to start. A lot of funding is geared toward face to face learning that takes place in a classroom, but learning in this way is not suitable for everyone.

You might be working full time or have children, perhaps you’re not able to travel to your local college? Whatever your reason for choosing to study a course online, we would like to share our top tips for looking at possible ways to pay for your course.

Spread the cost

If you are able, paying in monthly instalments might be a good way to spread the cost of your course. You can pay a deposit amount and then monthly instalments meaning you don’t have to pay the full amount up-front. NEC instalment plans usually have 0% interest and run over 6 months. Find out more about paying by with instalments.  

Ask your boss

If you’re thinking of doing a course that will help you to improve in your job or, perhaps, to prepare for a promotion with your company, asking your boss for help might be a good option for you. Some employers are willing to help their teams to be the best they can be, after all, it will be of benefit to them in the long-term. If you decide to do this, we suggest presenting your employer with details of the course and how it will help you to improve in your job.

Search for funding

There are different possibilities for funding your course, based on your own circumstances and often your location. You might consider approaching include local community groups or charities specific to your own circumstances such as ‘Help for Heroes’ if you are a former member of the Armed Forces.

Turn2Us have an online search tool which will search, on your behalf, for available grants based on your personal circumstances and location. You might also consider speaking to your Local Authority, particularly if you are educating your children at home.

Specialist organisations

Some organisation provide financial assistance to specific groups of people, for example, The Carers Trust provides grants for those with responsibility as a carer, The Prince’s Trust provide grants to young people aged between 14 and 25.

If you’re a member of the armed forces, you might be able to get funding. If you are looking to do a level 2 qualification (such as a GCSE) you may be able to get help through the Standard Learning Credits scheme. If you are looking for a level 3 or above, the Enhanced Learning Credits Administration Service (ELCAS) may be able to help you. In both cases, we recommend speaking to your Education and Resettlement co-ordinator in the first instance. NEC is approved by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) under the ELCAS scheme. Provider number 1160.

Don’t forget though, all grants and awards are subject to your individual circumstances. You can often find details of any eligibility criteria on the organisations website or by giving them a call.

Look for special arrangements

On some occasions, NEC works with organisations to provide a discount on course fees. One example of this is our partnership with Unionlearn. All union members are able to get a 10% discount on course fees. There are also special rates available when you are looking to enrol on more than one A level or GCSE course. Families that are home educating their children can also take a further 10% off of their course fees. You can read more about all NEC special offers and arrangements.

We hope this has given you an idea of where to start, if you’re looking to pay for your course.

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Tuesday, 05 December 2017

How does written non-examination assessment (NEA) work?

Laptop and hand

If you’re taking A levels in English language, English literature or history you’ll need to think about the written piece of non-examination assessment (NEA). It counts as 20% of your overall A level grade.

NEA needs to be marked to the standards of the awarding organisation and to be recognised as the work of the student. Exam centres making entries for subjects that include NEA are responsible for the marking and authentication (confirming that it is the work of the student) of your work.

In a conventional school setting this isn’t usually an issue, because the teacher will be familiar with each student and their work. For distance learners, however, it can present a challenge as it can be difficult and often costly to have someone supervise and mark your coursework independently.

A benefit of enrolling through NEC is that your tutor will get to know you and your work through the assignments you submit and they are able to both authenticate and mark your NEA. We’ve worked closely with awarding organisations to build rigorous processes to allow this to happen. As a registered exam centre we will then make your examination entry and you can then choose one of our fifteen partnership exam centres to sit your written exams at. We have excellent relationships with all of our centres which allows us to offer a seamless process from start to finish.

When do I need to do the NEA?

The NEA will need to feature in your learning plan and there are some dates you’ll need to stick to for each stage. The deadline for your final submission is 15th March and you’ll have some other dates to meet to prepare you. Don’t worry, you’ll get reminders along the way!

Will I get support?

Yes. Not only with planning and entering your coursework, but the ‘About Assessment’ section of your course is full of helpful information to get you underway. You’ll also have your personal tutor and the NEC support team, a combination that will give you the best possible chance of success.

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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

How does practical non-examination assessment work?

NEC tutor Jane conducting a practical science experiment

For some courses, there is a practical element such as science practical sessions. In our blog this week exams expert Louise talks about how this works for NEC students.

For A level science courses, you’ll need to think about practical work. This is easy to achieve in a conventional school setting, where students spend time with their teachers and the school will usually have its own science laboratories but can be difficult for distance learners, as they are studying remotely.

NEC has been working with awarding organisations to come up with solutions and I want to share with you how we can help you to achieve this.

Although you can opt not to complete the practical endorsement, NEC would always advise you against this. It won’t count towards your final A level result, but it will help you with the examinations and non completion could affect your entry to university. It is essential that you speak with your chosen university in good time to find out what they require as you can’t add on the endorsement at a later date without re-sitting the whole qualification.

Your entering exam centre must give you the opportunity to complete the practical endorsement, whether you decide to complete it or not. The endorsement is made up of 12 practicals which are assessed holistically. Rather than grades, you receive a Pass or Not Classified grade. If you choose to take your exams at a private centre, be sure to ask them to confirm that this includes the practical endorsement and provide you with full fees. If you decide not to complete the endorsement but choose to sit your exams at one of our partnership centres we will need you to sign a declaration to say that you have decided not to take the opportunity to complete.

All NEC students are given the opportunity to take the practical endorsement at four of our partnership centres. You can choose to sit the written exams at the same centre, or another NEC partnership centre of your choosing. All you need to do is fill out the exam application form and we’ll do the rest, making sure you are entered for the correct exams and endorsements and ensuring that we are then able to support you fully.

Even if you decide not to take the practical endorsement the written exams will require you understand the theory of practical work. Your NEC course will help you to get this through specially designed practical work that you can do at home and video and example results. By learning the theory of the practical work throughout your course you’ll be on the right path to gaining the practical endorsement.

Whatever decision you make, entering for your exams through NEC with one of our partnership centres ensures a seamless and stress-free service for you.

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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Why learning is a big issue for the homeless

Cambridge wildlife photographer and Big Issue seller Mark Siequien is bursting with ideas for the small business he wants to set up. Stored on a computer hard drive he has 10,000 images of wild animals in South Africa, taken when he worked as a volunteer at a primate sanctuary two years ago. Mark envisages his images enlivening children’s clothing sold from a stall in Cambridge market, greetings cards in gallery and museum shops, and a website to promote his work. With the help of NEC and Big Issue Invest, Mark is starting to make his ambition become a reality. The future hasn’t always looked as positive for Mark as it does now. After periods of homelessness and struggles with drugs and mental health, he has a place to live. Earlier this year, he married Anita, whom he met in South Africa. Last week, Mark and former Big Issue vendor Harry Bowyer were each presented with bursary to fund courses with NEC. Mark will be studying Business Start-up and Harry is enrolling on Art Techniques.

Social investment in learning

Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of The Big Issue Group, helped finance the work of the NEC via Impact Loans England, a £5 million lending scheme aimed at enabling social enterprises to access loan funding of between £20,000 and £150,000, launched in 2016. The programme is funded through the Growth Fund, which is managed by Access – The Foundation for Social Investment, with funding from Big Lottery Fund and Big Society Capital. Big Issue founder Lord Bird spent several spells in prison as a young man and received his basic education while behind bars. As he explained to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire recently, the status quo isn’t working for people in terms of housing, health, education, and mental well-being. 
NEC argues that when it comes to education, an individual learning entitlement is what would make a difference to homeless people who want to get back on track with their education.

A lifelong learning entitlement

The idea of an individual learning entitlement has been part of education policy thinking since the 1960s, when it was championed by NEC founder Michael Young. The entitlement would be put into a learning account and accessed when the learner was ready to use it. Such an approach would open up lifelong learning and break down the age-related framework which front-loads funding for 19-24 years olds. 

NEC is looking forward to watching Mark and Harry see their confidence grow through learning and new possibilities open up for them. The support hundreds people throughout the UK are receiving from organisations in the not-for-profit sector, including NEC’s work with Big Issue Invest, is challenging the status quo that so troubles Lord Bird. There are thousands more people in the UK like Mark and Harry, just as keen as they are to study for qualifications and take charge of their own futures. A greater emphasis on broadening access to education would be an important step forward for them all.

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Friday, 17 November 2017

Booking exams with NEC

Students taking written exams in an exam room

At NEC we can guarantee our students an exam place at one of our partnership exam centres. In our experience finding an exam centre can take students a lot of time and be quite a difficult process. Entering privately/independently also means NEC aren’t always able to help you with any issues that may arise. With NEC, you just need to fill out a form and we’ll do the rest, leaving you to get on with the important business of learning and preparing for your exams.

We’ve spent years building up strong relationships with our partnership exam centres which means we can react quickly when any problems arise and we know that you’ll receive a professional service from them on exam day. You’ve got enough to think about so we’ll worry about that part for you!

If you’re planning to sit your exams in the summer next year (2018) you’ll need to make your exam booking by January. Remember, if you have any non-exam assessment to do, you’ll have deadlines for this too. We’ll keep you up-to-date and make sure you get reminders when final dates are approaching. We always recommend making your booking sooner rather than later.

As an exam centre ourselves, we understand how the process of exam booking works. You can be confident that you’ll get the right papers and all the information you’ll need to make exam day run smoothly. 

In fact, the only thing we can’t do for you, is sit the exam!

If you have special access requirements, such as extra time or use of a laptop, we’ll work with you and the exam centre to see what is possible. You’ll need documents that support evidence of need. Documents in support of the candidate’s claim must be in the form of a full assessment report and written evidence from an educational establishment, listing the special access arrangements required and your normal way of working.

We’ve got a number of partnership exam centres across the UK. You can view them on our exams page, which also includes a handy map.

If you’re outside of the UK and need to come here to the UK, choosing an NEC partnership centre is a sensible choice. Not only will we take the administration off your hands, we know the areas that our centres are located and can advise you on getting there and finding somewhere to stay.

If you want to take advantage of NEC’s seamless exam booking service, you can find full details and an application for in the ‘About Assessment’ section of your course on learn@nec. You can also get in touch if you have any questions and we’ll be happy to help.

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Wednesday, 01 November 2017

Five barriers to achieving GCSEs and A level qualifications that need to be removed to open the doors for distance learners

 #speakupforAdultEd #adulteducation

Education policy makers and the organisations that make up England’s exam infrastructure rarely give a second thought to independent learners taking GCSEs and A levels under their own steam. As an organisation working with distance learners every day, NEC knows that a small number of changes could make a big difference to thousands of people and help the government make progress in achieving its higher education and skills objectives.

On the final day of the 2017 Festival of Learning, organised by the Learning and Work Institute, NEC is speaking up for adult learners. The practical solutions we are advocating will benefit all learners who are studying at a distance, including young people being educated at home. As the annual celebration of the achievements of thousands of adult learners across the country comes to an end, here’s our five-point plan for addressing the barriers distance learners face to taking GCSE and A level exams as private candidates.

Barrier 1 - Finding an exam centre willing to accept private candidates

Private candidates studying GCSEs and A levels often struggle to find an exam centre in a school or college that will allow them to sit their exams alongside other students.
The solution: exam boards should be required to work together to sponsor and operate fairly-priced open exam centres for all students not studying at a school or college who want to sit GCSEs and A levels.

Barrier 2 - The cost of entering for A level science practical endorsements

As well as paying out of their own pocket for their course and exam fees, private candidates studying science A levels also have to pay several hundred pounds per subject to take the practical endorsement. For students taking two or three science A levels, the costs are eye watering.

The solution: the proposed open exam centres offer science practical endorsements for biology, chemistry and physics, with government bursaries available to help students fund the cost.

Barrier 3 - Exam centre requirements for candidates who need access arrangements

Supporting document requirements for exam centres that make entries for private candidates in need of access arrangements are obtuse, hard for candidates to understand and, in some cases, difficult to acquire. The accommodations learners need are not always available at exam centres. As a result, the centres cannot accept their entry.

The solution: candidates needing access arrangements would be better accommodated in the proposed open exam centres.

Barrier 4 - Publication of exam results

The exam results of people who sit GCSEs and A levels each year as private candidates are not published separately from the results of young people studying at school or college. This makes it hard for both providers and exam boards to plan for them.

The solution: exam boards should be required to report separately on the results of people who enter the exams as private candidates alongside the results of candidates from schools and colleges.

Barrier 5 – The status of AS levels

AS level results no longer contribute to a student’s final A level grade which means the decision to take an A level is significant both in terms of financial investment and time commitment for students fitting in study with a career or caring responsibilities.

The solution: a return to the modular system of AS and A levels so a student’s AS level result can contribute to their A level result and they can enrol first for AS level and subsequently for A level. This would also encourage students to be more adventurous in their choice of subjects.

Louise Tolhurst, NEC’s exam expert says: ‘Despite the barriers, we know from NEC’s experience that our students perform well as their exam results often exceed the national outcome. This is a tribute to their hard work and determination. NEC prides itself on providing a seamless exam service for students through a network of dedicated exam partnership centres. We are committed to campaigning to remove the barriers for all students, wherever they are.’

Why does it matter?

The government’s success in widening participation in higher education by people over the age of 21, and halting the 40 per cent decline since 2010 in the number of students studying part-time in higher education, relies on adults who have left compulsory education being able to access the qualifications they need to progress further in education and at work without having to confront barriers that for many act as a deterrent to enrolling.

Removing barriers to accessing GCSEs and A levels would also help increase the numbers of people studying STEM subjects and contribute to the government’s targets for recruiting teachers and nurses.

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Thursday, 12 October 2017

Being an NEC intern

NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury

Today's blog is the second posted by NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury, pictured above. Rea worked with NEC during the summer and has now returned to the University of Cambridge, where she is studying in her final year for a degree in human, social and political sciences. You can read her previous blog post here: 'How do we reverse the decline in mature student numbers?'

Being an NEC intern

Before applying to be a marketing intern with the National Extension College I had not heard of the organisation and was not aware of what it did. However, after working here for three months I believe that I have gained a good understanding of NEC, the richness of its history and the climate around distance learning.

This is due to the fact that I have been given genuine responsibilities and tasks to do which has not only made me feel like a ‘proper’ employee but has enabled me to quickly get to grips with the terminology used in the office and the priorities of the charity during its busiest months.

Fortunately, just like the flexibility of NEC courses, I have been given the flexibility to explore what I am interested in. For example, being a Politics and Sociology student I am interested in a career in policy. Therefore it has been fantastic to be able to put together a short policy paper for Cambridge Labour MP Daniel Zeichner on lifelong learning and NEC’s role as a pioneer within the sector for over 50 years.

I have also enjoyed looking at ways to improve NEC’s social media presence, mostly because I get to read so many inspiring case studies from students! As well as the short policy paper and social media, I have designed eshots, analysed data from introductory assignments to gain a better understanding of STEM students and put together mailing lists for the new guide to courses.

I have become a lot more confident in my abilities and the skills that I can bring to the working world when I graduate next year. For example, I have never liked maths and didn’t think I was particularly good at spreadsheets, but after analysing data on the introductory assignments I feel much better about these two areas. Creating comparative graphs and calculating response percentages would have definitely phased me before I was given this project.

It is this hands-on experience which will not only make me more confident when applying for jobs next year but will enable employers to see that I have made an effort to gain experience during the summer months. As NEC founder Michael Young said back in 1988: ‘the old education fed by the acquisition of book knowledge will not be appropriate for many of them. These new students will need practical skills’.

As someone who is particularly interested in educational inequality, it is only through working at NEC that my eyes have been opened to the importance of adult education and how much more support needs to be given to mature, part-time and second-chance learners. However, it has also made me feel more optimistic about the future. With people living longer and great technological advances, individuals don’t have to go straight from A levels to a degree or from a degree to postgraduate qualifications but can keep returning to learning throughout their lives, making organisations such as NEC more and more important.

In the world of unpaid internships I would like to highlight that despite the fact that NEC is a small charity, it does pay its interns - an example many other organisations should follow. On its advertisement of the internship, its description as a ‘small, friendly office’ has rung true and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here.

Going back to university in the next couple of weeks I would like to thank both NEC and Murray Edwards Gateway Programme for the opportunity it has given me. I look forward to seeing NEC grow over the next couple of years. With new courses, partnerships, website development and an Instagram account on the way there is lots to be excited about!

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Thursday, 05 October 2017

Teachers, technology and the future of learning

Woman wearing an augmented reality headset

This week’s blogger is former NEC GCSE English student Naila Din. Now a freelance arts advisor and business coach, Naila turned to teaching as a second career after studying graphic design at university and working as a graphic designer in the world of web design before embarking on a career in education. Her enthusiasm for education and the integration of technology into the classroom prompted her to further develop her knowledge in this field with a Masters in Digital Media, with a particular focus on the future of education. This blog post is the first of two about the impact of technology in the classroom and looks at what technology means for teachers. The next post, which will look at the impact of technology on students, will be published in the new year.

Whether we teachers like it or not, technology has firmly established itself in the classroom and education is evolving fast as a result. Rapid technological change puts pressure on teachers to redefine their role as they must continue to be students themselves throughout their teaching career if they are to be fully effective practitioners.

Many, perhaps most, teachers are in an unfamiliar place, with little idea where technology is going to take us next in education and what systemic impact it will have. What’s more, we are pretty much in the dark when it comes to understanding the world we are preparing our students for once they leave compulsory education.

We take it as read that technology dominates the lives of students when they are outside the classroom. Virtually every student in secondary school, college and university carries one or more personal devices with them. The numbers of pupils in primary school with a smart phone is growing. From the age of two or three, children are proficient users of i-pads, with their intuitive learning platform.

One thing we can be sure of is that the degree to which teachers embrace technology varies across the education sector. Why is that? A 2008 study by Baek, Youngkyun Jung, Jaeyeob, Kim and Bokyeong in Korea demonstrated that external factors influence the extent to which teacher integrate technology into their classroom practice. The researchers found that many educators are reluctant to experiment with technology, a reluctance that is more pronounced the older they are. The study also shows that the strength of teachers’ desire to appear competent, cooperative and conforming to technology standards is a strong determiner of the extent to which they integrate technology into their classroom practice.

Many teachers continue to see technology as a teaching tool that helps students communicate in a learning environment and gives them a means to demonstrate their learning. However, educational institutions that aim to give teachers training in technologies for learning with the aim of them being always on top of relevant technological developments are fighting a losing battle (an expensive one), such is the speed at which technology is evolving.

So on what principles should schools, colleges and universities base their approach to technology for learning? These are the two I would propose above all others.

First, the creation of a flexible learning environment that enables teachers and students to be partners in learning.

Second, a shift in thinking about the dynamics of the teacher-student relationship to one that encourages innovation rather than conformity, and recognises the importance of emotional intelligence in collaborating to achieve a shared goal.

This is tough in a sector in which team work is liable to be viewed as cheating. It demands recognition by educators that learning be seen as a series of challenges rather than a cycle of lessons. Such an approach enables gaming technology to assess the progress of individual students, making possible differentiation of teaching, for example. Games-based learning can already record and report on students’ engagement and progress in real time on digital tablets, including the monitoring of students’ eye movements.

Gone is the option students once had of being passive receivers of instruction. Increasingly, technologies such as augmented reality are placing teachers in the role of facilitator rather than educator. As a result, continuing professional development for teachers must begin to include as standard coaching and mentoring skills to support students in thinking creatively, with the emphasis placed on how to think rather than what to think, a theme I discuss in 21st century teaching: what and how to think, a previous blog post I wrote for NEC.

Under this pedagogic model, students cannot be other than active agents in their own learning. Children starting school in 2017 will reach retirement age somewhere around 2084. No futurologist can tell us in detail what the future looks like for that generation, or for their teachers. One thing we can say for certain is that adaptability to change will be vital for teachers and students alike.

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Thursday, 28 September 2017

How do we reverse the decline in mature student numbers?

NEC CEO Dr Ros Morpeth, NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner
Today's blog was written by NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury, pictured here (centre) with NEC Chief Executive Ros Morpeth (left) and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner (right)

How do we reverse the decline in mature student numbers?

There was a 24% drop in applications from mature students, defined as those over the age of 21, to study at undergraduate level in the 2017 UCAS cycle, according to a House of Commons’ briefing paper published in June on higher education student numbers. This is coupled with a 56% fall in part-time participation in higher education since 2010, a trend which disproportionately affects mature students (Higher Education Statistics Agency).

At NEC, we know there is no lack of ambition to study at higher level among adults beyond the standard undergraduate age of 18 to 21. Of the thousands of students from across the UK and beyond who enrol with us, 56% state that their motivation for studying is to go on to further and higher education. So what’s going wrong?

Reversing the decline

NEC’s is one of the voices campaigning to reverse the decline in the number of students studying part-time. For example, we are collaborating with the Open University to remove barriers for adults who want to continue studying, formalising our joint work with a recently renewed memorandum of understanding.

Figures published in September in the Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 show that at some universities, including the OU, Birkbeck, Wrexham Glyndŵr, London Metropolitan and Suffolk, mature students make up over half of the undergraduate intake. When compared with other higher education institutions, these universities also admit a high proportion of pupils from state schools.

Conversely, Loughborough, St Andrews, the London School of Economics, Imperial and Bath are amongst the universities taking in the lowest number of mature students. Bath, at the bottom of the list, takes in only 2.2%. As Les Ebdon, director of Fair Access to Higher Education states: “The downward trend in mature student numbers is now one of the most pressing issues in fair access to higher education...universities and colleges should look to do what they can to reverse the decline in mature student applications, as a matter of urgency.”

Why universities are missing out

As an organisation with over 50 years expertise in distance learning, NEC has countless student stories to tell that show just how much some universities are missing out on by failing to recruit mature applicants. Here are just two of them, both about students who took A levels with NEC this summer and who are now starting undergraduate courses in STEM subjects.

Robert studied A level Physics with the NEC and is studying for an engineering degree at the Open University. He is in the process of changing careers, from RAF aircraft technician to engineer in the aerospace industry.

Ellena studied A level biology, achieving a grade A. In her mid-twenties, she has exchanged working as a receptionist at a London law firm for life as a full-time pharmacy student at Nottingham University.

The case for life-long learning

Last week, NEC presented the case for lifelong learning to Daniel Zeichner MP, who represents the university city of Cambridge. We talked to him about the barriers that currently face adults learners. One is finance. Changes to student finance in the higher education reforms of 2011 that mean students have to borrow to fund their fees and maintenance rather than receiving a grant, and loans for maintenance support for part-time study have only become available through the Student Loans Company from academic year 2017/18. A second is ELQ [Equivalent and Lower Qualification] rules prevent graduates from receiving a student loan for a second degree if they have studied earlier in life at undergraduate level. A third is disability and long-term illness. A fourth is confidence and motivation.

What we also highlighted are the many opportunities to bring about positive change. For examples, the 2016 Adult Learner Survey, a Research Report commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Adult Education (APPG), found that 51% of respondents thought that hearing from others who had already completed a course at whatever level would attract others to enrol themselves.

An achievable goal

Along with other organisations encouraging adults to study beyond the age of compulsory education, at NEC we give learners a voice by publishing their stories in the media and on our social media channels. We reach out to adults through partnerships with organisations like the Prisoners’ Education Trust and the Workers Education Association.

We believe that universities have a responsibility to devise imaginative approaches to attracting mature students, and to devise them quickly. It is encouraging that the new Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has given his support to the creation of a national system of Learning Accounts, an approach to funding lifelong learning which we have always supported. What’s needed next is cross-party support in the form of a commitment to fund lifelong learning and to stand up for private candidates studying under their own team and without the support of a college or school.

The United Nations’ fourth sustainable development goal reads: ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’ The UK hasn’t achieved that goal yet but we are convinced that with continued campaigning by organisations giving adult learners a voice, commitment from across the political spectrum, and creative thinking by the higher education sector, it is achievable.

Rea Duxbury

Rea worked with NEC as a marketing intern this summer and has now returned to the University of Cambridge, where she is studying in her final year for a degree in human, social and political sciences. Look out for Rea’s next blog on her experience as an intern.

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