More students from poorest areas entering university, finds major study

28 January 2010

A substantial increase in the numbers of young people from poor neighbourhoods entering higher education since the mid-2000s was welcomed by the Russell Group today.

major study by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) found that the participation rate of young people living in the most disadvantaged areas has increased every year since the mid-2000s. Young people from those areas are now 30% more likely to enter higher education than they were five years ago. Participation rates have also increased in advantaged neighbourhoods over this period, but less rapidly.

These recent trends mean that more of the additional entrants to HE since the mid-2000s have come from disadvantaged neighbourhoods than advantaged neighbourhoods. This has reduced the participation difference between advantaged and disadvantaged neighbourhoods, said the study, conducted by Dr Mark Corver of HEFCE’s Analytical Services Group.

Welcoming the findings of the HEFCE report, Trends in young participation in higher education: core results for England, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of 20 leading universities, said: “The sustained and substantial increase in participation by young people living in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in England since the mid-2000s is good very news, although more work still needs to be done.

“This major statistical study by HEFCE shows that the introduction of tuition fees has not deterred young people from higher education, and participation in the poorest areas of the country has continued to climb over the past five years.

“The study also concludes that this success in widening participation mirrors students’ improved GCSE results at school. We have long recognised that academic achievement continues to be the key factor in determining whether a student will go on to university. This is why our universities are working hard to help tackle the root causes of the problem: under-achievement and low aspirations, with staff and students devoting an increasing amount of their time to working closely with local schools and colleges, arranging summer schools, and providing access courses.”

Trends in young participation in higher education: core results for England, published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, states [par 31]: “In particular, the unusually rapid increases in HE participation recorded since the mid-2000s for young people living in disadvantaged areas are supported by changes in the GCSE attainment of the matching cohorts of young people[....]”. 

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