Sector News

Steve Haines, Director of Public Affairs at education charity Impetus
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Today’s statistics on widening participation to higher education show that the access gap between young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and their better-off peers increased for the third year in a row. 

Steve Haines, Director of Public Affairs at education charity Impetus (@ImpetusPEF) said: 

“Whilst record levels of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds attending university is something to be celebrated, we cannot ignore the fact that the access gap between these young people and their better-off peers has reached its largest in almost 15 years.  

“We’ve wasted valuable time this past year discussing whether too many young people are heading to university, and the merits of overhauling the system to one of post-qualification admissions, distracting from the fact that it is young people from more advantaged backgrounds who continue to reap the benefits of the expansion of higher education.  

“It’s time to re-prioritise closing the access gap and refocus the debate on what works to support all young people, whatever their background, to access higher education – high-quality tuition, contextualised admissions and protected funding to deliver evidenced-backed widening participation interventions.”  

Commenting on the gap between the numbers of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students entering university,

Lee Elliot Major 100x100Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, said:

“These are hugely worrying figures representing a backward step for social mobility – particularly given that efforts by universities to attract students from poorer backgrounds will be put back years following the pandemic. 

“University access efforts are facing a perfect storm - larger learning loss suffered during the pandemic by poorer pupils, the cancellation of face to face university outreach work, and increasing competition for degree places fuelled by grade inflation.”


Annual statistics on young people's participation in higher education, including their background characteristics.

Applies to England

Documents

Widening participation in higher education: 2021

https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/widening-participation-in-higher-education/2019-20

Details

Statistics providing information on measures of widening participation in higher education.

These include estimates of progression to higher education (HE) by age 19 for state-funded pupils by personal characteristics, including:

  • eligibility for free school meals (FSM)
  • gender
  • ethnicity
  • special educational need (SEN) status
  • first language
  • looked after children
  • children in need

The publication includes geographic breakdowns to enable comparisons of HE progression rates between local authorities and regions by personal characteristics.

Figures are also provided showing estimated percentages of A level and equivalent students, by school or college type, who progressed to HE by age 19 with breakdowns for high tariff higher education providers.

Further breakdowns include progression by POLAR disadvantage and Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework rating.

The latest data relates to HE entry in 2019 to 2020, so the figures presented will be unaffected by the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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