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Executive summary


1. The purpose of this report is to present the latest trends in participation in higher education (HE) among young people in England. These trends are reported for 14 cohorts of young people who were aged 18 in the academic years from 1998-99 to 2011-12. The youngest cohort considered are those who would have entered HE aged 18 the year before the introduction of the recent HE reforms. This provides a baseline against which the monitoring of young participation rates in the new HE funding environment can be measured.

2. Trends are reported at national, regional and parliamentary constituency levels to highlight how changes in HE participation rates have varied in different parts of the country. Trends are also reported for young people who live in areas characterised by different levels of disadvantage, to show how the propensity for young people from different backgrounds to participate in HE has changed over time. The respective participation rates of young women and young men are also reported.

Key points

3. Since the late 1990s, the rate of participation in HE among young people has increased from 30 per cent to 38 per cent. This represents a proportional increase of +26 per cent. Most of the increase has occurred since the mid-2000s, with participation rates increasing by six percentage points – a proportional increase of +19 per cent.

4. As predicted in a previous analysis (‘Trends in young participation in higher education: core results for England’, HEFCE 2010/03) young participation rates in England increased between 2007-08 and 2010-11, and continued to increase subsequently. However the young participation rate among the most recent cohort in this study – those entering HE aged 18 during the 2011-12 academic year, or 19 in the 2012-13 academic year – increased by half a percentage point, around half the typical increase observed during recent years.

5. Young participation rates have increased for men and women, though since the late 1990s the participation rate for women has increased more. This means the participation gap between women and men was wider than it was 14 years ago. However in recent years the gap has narrowed slightly and appears to be stable. Estimates for the most recent cohort suggest that young women had a participation rate that was eight percentage points higher than young men, making them +22 per cent more likely to progress into HE.

6. The difference in participation rates for men and women is exacerbated when we consider people living in the most disadvantaged areas. In these areas young women have a participation rate of 23 per cent, six percentage points higher than the rate for young men. This means young women in the most disadvantaged areas are +35 per cent more likely to participate in HE by the age of 19 than young men.

7. The difference in participation rates between young people living in the most advantaged and most disadvantaged areas remains large. Although young participation rates increased in both advantaged and disadvantaged areas, with proportional increases of +16 and +52 per cent respectively, the participation gap between them has remained broadly stable at around 40 percentage points. Young people in the most disadvantaged areas would need to treble their participation rate in order to match the rate of those from the most advantaged areas.

8. There are also large differences in the participation rates of young people across the different regions of England. Participation rates have increased in all regions, and the gaps in participation between regions outside London have narrowed. However, the biggest increase in participation rate was in London, the part of the country which already had the highest rate at the start of the study period. The gap in participation between London and the rest of the country has therefore widened. This participation gap is widest between young people in London and the North East, with the former being +43 per cent more likely to participate in HE than the latter.

9. The large increase in young participation rates in London extends to those living in the most disadvantaged areas. That is to say, young people from the most disadvantaged areas (defined nationally) who also live in London experienced a much greater increase in participation rates than others who are equally disadvantaged but live outside London.

10. The gaps in participation rates between London and other parts of the country become wider when smaller areas are considered. For example, the participation rate in Wimbledon, the parliamentary constituency with the highest young participation rate nationally, was 68 per cent, four times greater than in Nottingham North, the constituency with the lowest rate. These large gaps exist despite the young participation rate increasing in almost every parliamentary constituency. Furthermore some areas which have had very big increases in participation rate (for example Manchester Central and Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) still have rates that are among the lowest in the country.

Action required

11. This document is for information only.

Date: 24 October 2013

Ref: 2013/28

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of universities in Northern Ireland

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Increasing and widening participation, Policy development

Enquiries should be directed to:

The Quantitative Analysis for Policy team, e-mail