The recent data from UCAS, published in December, shows there were record numbers of young disadvantaged people going to university in 2016. The entry rate for the most disadvantaged 18 year olds (as measured by POLAR) has risen to 19.5%, the highest ever recorded, making disadvantaged young people in England 43% more likely to enter university in 2016 than in 2009.
Over the period 2009–2016, the proportional increase has been greater than the increase for those from the most advantaged backgrounds, with the entry ratio between those from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds decreasing. As highlighted in the recent UCAS End of Cycle Report, the entry rate in 2015 and 2016 has increased for both advantaged and disadvantaged young people, with the ratio remaining fairly stable.
However we acknowledge that there is still much to do. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are still much less likely to go to university than their more affluent peers.
In February 2016, we published new guidance to the Director for Fair Access (DfA)–the first new guidance since 2011. The DfA has since agreed 198 Access Agreements for 2017/18 with plans for Universities to spend more than £833 million on measures to improve access and student success for students from disadvantaged backgrounds - up significantly from £404 million in 2009. Any higher education provider wanting to charge over £6k has to have an access agreement agreed with the independent Director of Fair Access.
The Higher Education and Research Bill, currently before Parliament, has social mobility at its core. It seeks to improve participation in HE and, by doing so, increase social mobility. The Bill establishes the Office for Students (OfS) which will have responsibility for access to higher education and widening participation, and for the first time ever a statutory duty to promote equality of opportunity for all students. The OfS will incorporate the powers of the current Director of Fair Access. Our clear intention is that the OfS will give responsibility to the Director for Fair Access and Participation (the “DFAP”) for access and participation activities. This will include agreeing Access and Participation Plans which universities will be required to submit before they can charge students fees at the higher amount. In addition, the DFAP will be responsible for reporting to the other members of the OfS on the performance by the OfS of its access and participation functions.
The Bill will also enable the Government to offer alternative student finance, consistent with the principles of Islamic finance, for the first time. Alternative student finance would not involve payments based on interest, which is inconsistent with the principles of Islamic finance. It will be open to students irrespective of their religious beliefs and will not result in any financial advantage or disadvantage for people who use it, relative to a student loan. This will help ensure equality of opportunity.
The Bill will require Higher Education providers to publish their respective student application, offer, acceptance and completion rates by gender, ethnic background and socio-economic background through a Transparency Duty to shine a spotlight on those institutions who need to go further in widening participation. We believe these measures will help to further drive social mobility in the future.
Through the proposals in the Schools that Work for Everyone consultation, we intend to harness universities’ expertise in raising standards and school attainment. This will enable pupils from all backgrounds to have access to greater opportunity.
21 December 2016
12 The participation of local areas (POLAR) classification groups areas across the UK based on the proportion of the young population that participates in higher education (HE).