There were increases in the number of students from all social backgrounds entering full-time first degrees in 2015-16. However, the largest proportionate increases were by those from the most educationally disadvantaged areas.
Compared with 2014-15, there was a 4.6 per cent increase in UK-domiciled students to HEFCE-funded higher education institutions (HEIs) from Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) quintile 1 areas, which are the local areas with the lowest rate of participation in higher education. There was also a 4.5 per cent increase from POLAR quintile 2 areas, compared with a 3.8 per cent increase from quintile 5.
Overall, the population of students is slowly becoming more representative. The share of entrants from the highest-participation areas was 30 per cent in 2015-16, while the share from the lowest-participation areas was 11 per cent.
However, the disparities are greatest at HEIs with high entry tariffs. In 2015-16, 41 per cent of entrants to these HEIs came from quintile 5 areas, whereas only 6.6 per cent came from quintile 1 areas.
There remained large differences in the performance of students from different POLAR quintiles during and after their higher education courses.
Disadvantaged students are more likely to leave their course of study after one year. In 2014-15, the non-continuation rate for quintile 1 students taking first degrees increased sharply from 8.1 to 8.8 per cent. The rate for quintile 5 students in 2014-15 was 4.9 per cent, little different to the 5.0 per cent in the previous year.
Employment outcomes also vary according to social background. While overall employment rates six months after graduation were similar across all students regardless of background, those from disadvantaged backgrounds were less likely to be in professional employment.
A student from an area with the highest levels of participation in higher education was six percentage points more likely to be in professional employment than a student from an area with the lowest level of participation.
This difference persists even controlling for other factors, such as prior attainment, subject studied and HEI attended.