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HEFCE closed at the end of March 2018. The information on this website is historical and is no longer maintained.

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A major study of all young people living in England gives the first picture of the trends in the proportion of young people entering higher education (HE) at ages 18 and 19 between the mid-1990s and the present.

The study, conducted by Dr Mark Corver of HEFCE’s Analytical Services Group, finds that there has been a substantial and sustained increase in the HE participation rate of young people living in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods since the mid-2000s.

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 per cent more likely to enter HE 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.

The study places these changes in the context of the large differences in entry to HE that are found by where young people live. In the mid-1990s, one in eight young people from the most disadvantaged areas entered HE. That figure has increased to around one in five today but remains far lower than for the most advantaged areas, where well over half of young people now enter higher education.

While the study does not attempt to identify what has caused the recent increases in the participation rate recorded for young people living in disadvantaged areas, the findings are shown to be consistent with other trends, including GCSE attainment.

At the national level, a greater proportion of young people living in England now go on to enter HE than ever before. Currently 36 per cent of young people enter HE aged 18 or 19, making young people today over 20 per cent more likely to go on to HE than in the mid-1990s.

The study also tracks the trends in young participation for young men and women. In the mid-1990s women and men had about the same young participation rate in HE. Over the next 10 years the participation rate for women increased while the rate for men stayed the same, leading to young women being around 25 per cent more likely to enter HE than young men by the mid-2000s.

Since then the participation rate of young men has increased, including for those living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods where the relative participation difference between men and women has been greatest. This increase has prevented the relative participation differences between men and women increasing further for recent cohorts. Currently 40 per cent of young women enter HE compared to 32 per cent of young men.

John Selby, Director for Education and Participation at HEFCE, said:

'These results are very significant. They show a substantial increase in the participation rate of those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds with, recently, a narrowing of the gap between them and those from the most advantaged backgrounds. It is also encouraging that the gap in participation between men and women, which once appeared to be growing inexorably, seems to have stopped widening in recent years. Nevertheless, the participation differences between the most advantaged and least advantaged, and between women and men, remain very large. We must continue to work on these issues but can be encouraged by the recent progress.'


  1. The report is 'Trends in young participation in higher education: core results for England' (HEFCE 2010/03).
  2. The young participation rate is the proportion of a cohort of young people who go on to enter HE at ages 18 or 19. The Government’s Higher Education Initial Participation Rate (HEIPR) has a different definition. In particular, it covers entrants to HE from a wider age range (ages 17 to 30). This wider age range is the main reason why participation rates recorded by the HEIPR statistic are higher (typically by nine or 10 percentage points) that those reported for the young participation rate.
  3. The analysis is based on a wide range of data covering HE students on full-time and part-time courses throughout the UK. Data on recent acceptances to HE from UCAS are used to help estimate recent trends. Anonymous child benefit data are used to help calculate local populations. [Paragraphs 39-40 in HEFCE 2010/03].
  4. The most disadvantaged neighbourhoods represent around 20 per cent of young people. The most advantaged neighbourhoods also represent around 20 per cent of young people. The analysis uses measures of educational, occupational and income advantage. The different ways of measuring advantage give similar participation trends. [Paragraphs 46-68 in HEFCE 2010/03].
  5. The young participation rate for young people living in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods where few young people go onto HE has increased from 15 per cent for the 04:05 cohort to 19 per cent for the 09:10 cohort. In the most advantaged areas the young participation rate has increased from 55 per cent to 57 per cent over the same period. For the 09:10 cohort there are 6,600 additional entrants from the most disadvantaged areas and 3,000 additional entrants from the most advantaged areas as a result of the young participation rate changes since the mid-2000s. [Paragraphs 27-30 in HEFCE 2010/03. 'Additional entrants' is defined in paragraph 41 in HEFCE 2010/03].
  6. Young people living in disadvantaged areas in recent years have been affected by many factors that could act to increase their young participation rates. These factors include, among others: improved attainment at schools; the education maintenance allowance; new types of HE qualifications; and programmes of widening participation activities. Many of these changes occurred at the same time and may interact with each other, making it difficult or impossible to isolate what effect each might be contributing.