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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.'