27 November 2018
A walk through the latest data
The purpose of this blog is to talk you through four charts that show the first data from the Student Loans Company on Welsh part-time undergraduate and postgraduate students receiving financial support.
From September 2018 the first full-time and part-time undergraduate students with access to the Diamond student financial support package started their studies. At the same time, the second year of postgraduate students able to access Welsh Postgraduate Loans started their own “student journey”.
A few months into the first year of the main reforms, the very first initial pieces of data have started to come into the public domain. This is allowing an opening glimpse at the numbers of undergraduate and postgraduate students receiving financial support for the 2018/19 academic year.
Firstly, the caveat. These data must be interpreted carefully, and as ever, the adage that correlation doesn’t equal causation must be borne-in-mind (i.e. the student number changes we are about to walk you through may be changing for reasons other than the Diamond reforms, and they may not represent extra students, just more students qualifying for support).
That said, this initial data from the Student Loans Company, released on 15 November 2018, is showing significant increases in part-time undergraduate and postgraduate students receiving student financial support when compared to 31 October last year.
Remind me, what’s in the Diamond reforms?
The first place to perhaps start is to briefly be reminded of what the Diamond reforms entailed for student financial support.
The main premise of the Diamond reforms was to shift the emphasis of student financial support away from tuition fee grants toward living cost support including providing larger maintenance grants to those from households with lower incomes.
Another important change was that the total level of support available to a student would not be reduced by their household income, only the balance between maintenance loan (repayable) and grant (non-repayable).
One of the other significant shifts in the reforms was to offer a pro-rata version of this full-time package to part-time students. Implementing this “parity of support” principle has meant part-time students becoming eligible for living cost support that they would not have been eligible for prior to September 2018 because of their household income.
The reforms have also included increased financial support for postgraduate students via a postgraduate loan from September 2017 (a bit earlier than the rest of the reforms).
Now that we’ve established that September 2018 heralds some quite significant changes to part-time and postgraduate support, time to move on to the student numbers.
Part-time and postgraduate enrolments in Wales and amongst Welsh students have been falling for years
The first chart below shows the trend for new part-time undergraduate enrolments (PTUG) and both full and part-time postgraduate taught (PGT) enrolments at Welsh universities each year (not the total populations, just the new students enrolling each year).
Bear in mind that the chart below shows all enrolments at Welsh universities, including non-Welsh domiciled students.
Figure 1 – The trend in part-time and postgraduate learning at Welsh universities
The graph shows a largely downward trend for new part-time undergraduate enrolments, with 1,340 fewer new part-time first-degree (i.e. BA, BSc etc) undergraduate students walking through the door in 2016/17 compared to 2012/13.
The postgraduate study picture is more mixed with increases in enrolments in 2016/17 compared to the previous year, but in neither case do the increases in 2016/17 make up all the lost ground since 2012/13.
You’ll have noticed this chart doesn’t show just Welsh domiciled students. And it’s only Welsh domiciled students that are benefitting from the Diamond package. But you can find this data on HESA’s website here and you’ll notice that the overall trend is the same: fewer new Welsh domiciled part-time and postgraduate enrolments studying at universities anywhere in the UK in 2016/17 compared to 2012/13.
This trend is not unique to Wales: there were 122,000 fewer new part-time undergraduate enrolments in the UK in 2016/17 when compared to 2012/13.
Where Welsh students do differ from others is that fewer are registering for new full-time postgraduate study in 2016/17 than in 2012/13. Every other UK nation is showing the opposite trend – more new postgraduate student registrations in 2016/17 than in 2012/13.
So, the story is one of a significant decline in part-time undergraduate student numbers (both at Welsh universities and amongst Welsh domiciled students studying across the UK) and a smaller decline in postgraduate students (again both at Welsh universities and amongst Welsh domiciled students studying across the UK).
The end of the downward trend?
This downward trend can now be compared to the data from the Student Loans Company.
Figure 2 – The 6 year trend in part-time and postgraduate students getting paid financial support
This chart is showing that there’s more Welsh (and EU) part-time undergraduate and postgraduate students receiving financial support than at the same time in any of the previous years.
There are fewer entries for the postgraduate loan as this support package only started last year.
The chart below focuses in on this year and last year to better show the increase.
Figure 3 – Comparing 31 October 2017 with 31 October 2018 – Postgraduate loans and part-time support paid to students
The final chart shows the take-up of postgraduate student loans.
Figure 4 – Comparing 31 October 2017 with 31 October 2018 – just postgraduate loans for new students
This chart shows an increase in new postgraduate students getting paid financial support (both full and part-time).
It shows that on 31 October 2017 2,800 new Welsh students received a postgraduate loan. On 31 October 2018 however there were 3,800 new Welsh students receiving a loan – an increase of 1,000 new students receiving support.
Incidentally, this chart also shows that there has been a significant increase in new EU domiciled students receiving post-graduate financial support from 100 to 600.
What does all this tell us?
Well what it can’t tell us is if the Diamond reforms have stimulated an increase in part-time and postgraduate study amongst Welsh students. We can’t be sure one is the result of the other.
But the data does show, at face value, an increase in the number of these students applying for and receiving financial support this year when compared to last – this could be seen as encouraging and as a sign the historical trends in relation to part-time undergraduate and Welsh postgraduate study are starting to reverse.
But what we can’t tell yet is if this will be a consistent upward trend that reverses the historic decline – this could just be pent up demand – i.e. people have been waiting for the reforms to come online before starting their studies. In a few months’ time the first data on how many Welsh students have actually enrolled on part-time and postgraduate programmes will be available to Welsh Government. Only time will tell if it matches the expectations which might be set by this data from the Student Loans Company.