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‘POLAR3: Young participation rates in higher education’ outlines the latest version of the participation of local areas (POLAR) measure, which classifies small areas from across the UK (Note 1) according to their rates of participation by young people in higher education (HE) (Note 2).
The POLAR classification is important as it is used by HEFCE to assign widening participation funding to institutions in England (Note 3), and in formulating the performance indicators for widening participation (Note 4). POLAR is not just used at the national level, however: institutions make use of the data for targeting their widening participation outreach activity, and as contextual information during the admissions process. It is therefore vital that the POLAR classification is regularly updated by making use of the latest available data.
Participation in HE among young people changes through time. In England participation has increased since the mid-1990s, and particularly since the mid-2000s (Note 5). In Scotland participation has increased over the last five years (Note 6). The level of young HE participation in an area might change for many reasons, for example as a result of government policy, or through changes in the size and social composition of the population. These changes may not be the same in all parts of the UK.
Although primarily a technical update to the classification, the analysis has highlighted matters worthy of further analysis, particularly the differences in participation rates across the different regions of the UK.
Some of the key findings in the report are as follows:
Heather Fry, Director of Education, Participation and Students at HEFCE, said:
‘HEFCE remains committed to widening participation, and this report confirms the progress that has been made since 2004. The POLAR classification is an essential tool, enabling us to ensure that our investment in widening participation is targeted where it is most needed, and helping institutions to target their resources and effort more effectively. In addition to these very practical benefits, the analysis involved in creating the POLAR classifications allows us to understand better the broad patterns of participation across the country, and to identify where further work is needed.’
HEFCE has published POLAR 3 data and maps to accompany this report.