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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 The information on this website is historical and is no longer maintained.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, ‘Young participation in higher education: A-levels and similar qualifications’ (HEFCE 2015/03), examines the rates of young participation in higher education for all Key Stage 5 pupils from English schools and colleges achieving a Level 3 qualification between 2006 and 2013 [Note 1]. It also examines the extent to which a pupil’s school and background affect their likelihood of progressing to higher education at the ages of 18 or 19.

Whether from academic or vocational qualifications, prior educational attainment is the main criterion used by higher education providers to decide whether to make offers to or accept applicants. And in choosing a path beyond school or college, prospective students are also able to judge for themselves the attainability of a place in higher education on the basis of their educational achievement. Understanding how different Level 3 qualifications may affect a pupil’s likelihood of progression into higher education therefore forms an important part of HEFCE’s ongoing programme of work on young participation in higher education and makes a valuable contribution to extending the existing evidence base [Note 2].

The report finds:

  • The proportion of pupils achieving the highest grades at A‑level has remained broadly static between 2006 and 2013.
  • The number and proportion of pupils holding a BTEC National or a combination of Level 3 qualifications has risen since 2006.
  • The proportion of pupils achieving the highest grades at BTEC has increased since 2005-06.
  • Pupils with A‑levels or International Baccalaureate Diplomas generally have higher participation rates in higher education than those with other Level 3 qualifications.
  • Pupils holding Level 3 qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects have higher rates of young participation in higher education than those who did not study STEM subjects.
  • Young participation rates differ across the English regions for pupils holding A-levels and similar qualifications [Note 3].

The key findings arising from this investigation have focused on pupils whose Level 3 achievement is equivalent to a minimum of three A-levels. However, interactive graphs accompanying the report provide access to further data relating to the profiles and participation rates of Level 3 pupils [Note 4].


  1. HEFCE’s report is available. It looks at pupils obtaining their Level 3 qualifications from school Year 13, aged 16, 17 or 18. Level 3 qualifications are those studied at the level prior to higher education. They are typically undertaken during Key Stage 5 – the two years of post-compulsory education under the National Curriculum for pupils aged 16 to 18. They include (among others) A-levels, BTEC Nationals, International Baccalaureate Diplomas, OCR Nationals, Cambridge Pre-Us and Principal Learning Diplomas. The research examines pupils gaining these qualifications from maintained and independent schools, and from sixth form and other further education colleges. It investigates how many of those pupils participate in publicly-funded higher education within two years of completing Key Stage 5.
  2. Limitations in the availability of administrative data mean that we cannot provide a complete analysis of young participation generally. For example, we are unable to consider participation in higher education at institutions outside the UK, higher education in further education colleges outside England, or higher education delivered at a significant number of alternative providers in England. Additionally, on account of the timescales involved in tracking a Level 3 cohort through to their higher education attainment and subsequent employment destinations, we have not reported here on the longer-term outcomes of Level 3 pupils, beyond their rates of participation in higher education while young.
  3. Future HEFCE work will seek to extend our existing mappings of young participation by census ward areas in England, to consider progression from Level 3 qualifications to higher education at a more local level. This work will help to support discussions between higher education providers, local enterprise partnerships and combined authorities as they seek to understand progress made in widening participation, and what more needs to be done in local communities to ensure its continued improvement.
  4. The interactive data are available on the HEFCE website.