You need cookies enabled


You need cookies enabled

Executive summary


1. This report examines Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)see note 1 course and student data for 2008-09, collected from eight institutions piloting different types of flexible learning in the HEFCE-funded Flexible Learning Pathfinder projectsee note 2. The data are compared to those for similar, traditionally delivered courses for the same year.

2. We plan to enhance this data analysis using 2009-10 HESA data, both to take into account later cohorts of students and to continue tracking the 2008-09 students as they graduate and progress into further study and/or employment.

Key points

3. This study reports on the findings of a data analysis relating to a particular group of students taking specific types of courses in a particular year. Therefore their principal value is in demonstrating possible tendencies and directions in relation to the different types of flexible provision, which may be borne out in further studies. With this in mind, no formal statistical significance tests have been performed and readers should consider the practical significance of the results in the first instance.

4. For the purposes of this analysis, the types of flexible learning piloted have been grouped into three main categories:

  • two-year accelerated honours degreessee note 3
  • accelerated four-year part-time honours degreessee note 4
  • other forms of flexible learningsee note 5.

5. Throughout this study, 'flexible learning' refers to programmes piloted as part of the Flexible Learning Pathfinder project. There are forms of flexible learning and courses of study using flexible learning at pathfinder and other institutions which were not included in the pilot scheme.

6. Among the pathfinder institutions, there were 390 students on two-year accelerated honours degree courses in 2008-09. Of these, 235 entered in 2008-09.

7. There were 10 students on four-year accelerated part-time honours degree courses, all at the same institution.

8. There were 2,390 students on other types of flexible programmes at pathfinder institutions. Of these, 1,455 were aiming for a first degree. In this report, these other forms of flexible learning are referred to as 'Other FL'.

9. This report looks in more detail at the characteristics of the 390 accelerated two-year students in the academic year 2008-09 and compares them to full-time three-year students aiming for a first degree at pathfinder and other higher education institutions. Because three-year students have a different age, institution and subject profile from two-year accelerated students, the percentages have been adjusted for each characteristic (see paragraph 15). The results are as follows:

  1. Sixty-three per cent of two-year accelerated students were mature, compared to an adjusted proportion of 34 per cent for three-year students. Forty-seven per cent of two-year accelerated students were aged between 21 and 30, compared to 16 per cent of three-year students.
  2. Fifty-one per cent of two-year accelerated students were male, compared to the adjusted percentage of 50 for three-year students.
  3. Twenty-three per cent of two-year accelerated students were living outside the UK before the start of their course, compared to the adjusted percentage of 28 for three-year students.
  4. Forty-two per cent of two-year accelerated students entered with A-levels as their main qualification, compared to the adjusted percentage of 44 for the three-year students.
  5. Forty-one per cent of two-year accelerated students were from neighbourhoods with low participation in higher education, compared to the adjusted percentage of 42 for the three-year students.
  6. Forty-one per cent of two-year accelerated students reported themselves as minority ethnic, compared to the adjusted percentage of 32 for the three-year students.
  7. Six per cent of two-year accelerated students reported themselves as disabled, compared to the adjusted 8 per cent for the three-year students.

10. The National Student Survey shows that 74 per cent of the two-year accelerated students who were surveyed were satisfied with their course, compared to 81 per cent of three-year students.

11. The report also looks in more detail at the courses designated 'Other FL'. Although it cannot be deduced from the HESA data, a wide variety of these other forms of flexible learning were piloted, including work-based learning, continuing professional development, and foundation and masters degrees delivered in flexible and innovative ways.

12. The data show that, of the 1,455 Other FL first degree students in 2008-09:

  1. Five hundred and forty-five were on four-year sandwich courses, that is, courses that included a period of work experience. Nearly all of these were studying a course in business and administrative studies, or in architecture, building and planning.
  2. Three hundred and ninety were part-time, and most of these were on six-year courses. Two hundred and forty of the 390 studied in the subject area of Architecture, building and planning.
  3. Five hundred and twenty were full-time, and the majority were on three-year courses. Most of these studied a course in the subject area of business and administrative studies or computer science.

Action required

13. No action is required in response to this document.


  1. HESA runs a database of information collected on every higher education student attending a UK institution.
  2. More information on the Flexible Learning Pathfinder project.
  3. An honours degree delivered intensively over two years, with the same content and the same number of credits as a traditional three-year degree. These are also sometimes referred to as 'fast-track' degrees. For information on variations on the model of delivery, see page 9 of 'Accelerated learning programmes: a review of quality, extent and demand' (Higher Education Academy, May 2007).
  4. An honours degree delivered on a part-time basis over four years. This offers the flexibility of working part-time in a related area while studying.
  5. Courses delivered by flexible methods such as part-time study, distance learning, blended learning, work-based learning or a combination of these methods. They included foundation degrees delivered over three years, foundation degrees with distance-learning top-up, and professional development courses.

Date: 1 February 2011

Ref: HEFCE 2011/05

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Student data, Planning, Student experience, Widening participation, Learning and teaching

Enquiries should be directed to:

Sheila Wolfenden, tel 0117 931 7301, e-mail

Mark Gittoes, tel 0117 931 7052, e-mail