From education to employment

Progress slows in closing the gap between the most and least advantaged students starting degrees

The second release of UCAS’ 2018 End of Cycle Report shows a record 19.7 per cent of young people classified as living in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK (POLAR4 quintile 1) were accepted through UCAS to start a course in September 2018. This is up 0.4 percentage points, and 1.8 per cent proportionally, from 2017.

However, young people from the most advantaged areas of the UK remain over 2.3 times more likely to start an undergraduate course than those from the least advantaged areas.

The gap between the most and least advantaged marginally narrowed in 2018. 46.5 per cent of young people from quintile 5 secured a place at university or college. This is also up 0.4 percentage points – however, it’s a smaller proportional increase of 0.8 per cent compared to the rise from quintile 1 students.

There are differences across the UK higher education sector, with students from quintile 1 almost as likely to enter lower tariff providers as those from quintile 5. Though this ratio at higher tariff providers continues to decrease, as it has done since 2009, progress is slowing. Young people from quintile 5 are 5.74 times more likely to study at a higher tariff university than those from quintile 1.

The gap is gradually closing in Scotland, where the SIMD measure is used. Those from the least deprived areas are now 3.26 times more likely to go to university compared to 18 year olds from the most deprived areas, representing the third consecutive year the gap has reduced. The entry rate gap reduces further when students up to the age of 20 are included.

Women across the UK continue to be more likely to enter higher education, with 38.3 per cent of 18 year olds starting a course, compared to 28 per cent of young men. This means women were 36.7 per cent more likely to begin a degree in 2018, continuing the rise from 31.4 per cent, which began in 2013.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

‘While it’s encouraging to see record levels of students from the most disadvantaged areas going to university, the slow progress in closing the gap is disheartening.

‘It’s clear that targeted outreach activities need to continue, highlighting to students from all backgrounds the experience, challenge, and opportunities degree study can bring. Our independence puts us in a strong position to provide all universities and colleges with analytical insights to evaluate their work in supporting the most disadvantaged students.’ 

In Scotland, there is a substantial section of higher education that is not included in UCAS’ figures. This is mostly full-time higher education provided in further education colleges, which represents around one third of young full-time undergraduate study in Scotland – this proportion varies by geography and background within Scotland. Accordingly, figures on applications and application rates in Scotland reflect only those applying for full-time undergraduate study through UCAS.

UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is an independent charity, and the UK’s shared admissions service for higher education. We manage almost three million applications, from around 700,000 people, each year, for full-time undergraduate courses at over 380 universities and colleges across the UK.

This the second release of the 2018 UCAS Undergraduate End of Cycle Report, covering patterns of applicant characteristics. A summary of applicants and acceptances, offer-making, and unconditional offer-making to 18 year olds from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales was published on 29 November 2019. The final chapters of the 2018 End of Cycle Report will be published on 13 December.

University-level analysis for the 2018 cycle is due to be published on 31 January 2019. 

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