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 The information on this website is historical and is no longer maintained.

Many of HEFCE's functions will be continued by the Office for Students, the new regulator of higher education in England, and Research England, the new council within UK Research and Innovation.

The HEFCE domain - - will continue to function until September 2018. At this point we will close the site entirely and all its information will only be available from the National Web Archive.


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The report also shows that young people entering higher education (HE) from more disadvantaged areas are more likely to study part-time, and to attend an institution closer to home, than entrants from more advantaged areas [Notes 1-3].

It assesses the extent to which wards might conceal pockets of young people in smaller (‘sub-ward’) areas with substantially different rates of young participation. This is assessed nationally, as well as for different regions of the UK, and types of area (urban or rural).

The report also evaluates the construction of POLAR3, explores how this classification relates to other forms of deprivation affecting young people, and looks at variations in the characteristics of HE entrants in 2011-12 from different POLAR3 quintiles [Note 4].

The research found the following:

  • While young participation rates can vary within wards, the majority of the young population are likely to live in sub-ward areas with participation rates that are not substantially different from that of the ward in which they live.
  • Nationally it is estimated that only one in 14 young people living in wards belonging to the most disadvantaged POLAR quintile resides in a smaller sub-ward area which has a young participation rate substantially different from that of the ward in which they live.
  • These findings hold true for different parts of the UK: for example, similar levels of variation are found in Greater London and rural areas.
  • POLAR identifies a specific form of disadvantage – namely, educational disadvantage relating to participation in higher education – that is different from the types of disadvantage identified by other measures. This means that the POLAR classification is not necessarily an appropriate substitute for other measures of disadvantage.

Heather Fry, HEFCE Director (Education, Participation and Students), said:

‘This report confirms POLAR as an appropriate and reliable tool which adds to the richness of the data and evidence available to widening participation practitioners, as they seek to better understand and identify young people who are likely to benefit most from higher education outreach activity.’


  1. The report, ‘Further information on POLAR3: An analysis of geography, disadvantage and entrants to higher education’ (HEFCE 2014/01), is available. POLAR is a UK-wide area-based measure that groups geographical areas according to the proportion of young people living in them who participate in HE by the age of 19. This is known as the ‘young participation rate’. The POLAR classification is used for a variety of purposes, including the monitoring of local and national patterns of young HE participation.
  2. The areas considered in POLAR3 are 2001 census area statistics wards, referred to as ‘census wards’ in the report.
  3. Disadvantage and advantage are here measured according to POLAR3 quintiles.
  4. This analysis includes data from the Individualised Learner Record in addition to Higher Education Statistics Agency data, so that young entrants studying HE in further education colleges in England can be included.
  5. The POLAR3 classification is available on the HEFCE website, alongside an interactive map showing the POLAR classifications of all wards across the UK. ‘POLAR3: Young Participation Rates in Higher Education’ (HEFCE 2012/26) gives full details of the POLAR3 methodology along with a detailed analysis of the classification.
  6. ‘Young participation in higher education’ (HEFCE 2005/03) previously examined the suitability of wards as the reporting geography for POLAR. The same publication also investigated the relationship between POLAR and other measures of disadvantage, and how the background characteristics and HE experience of entrants varied across POLAR quintiles. That work focused on entrants to HE during the 1990s, but the POLAR classification has been updated twice since then to include the latest information on HE entrants, most recently in 2012. The purpose of this report is to update and extend previous findings in the light of POLAR3.