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Has the number of English students entering HE who were educated in state schools fallen? No.

August 17, 2016

Earlier this month, the Department for Education published a report on widening participation in England which compared entrants to HE by whether students were state-educated or privately educated.

The results in this report were widely reported as showing a recent fall in the number of state school students starting HE by 19 between 2010/11 and 2013/14. The Guardian’s coverage in particular linked this claimed fall to the introduction of higher tuition fees in 2012. (1) The claim has now been picked up by the two Labour leadership candidates.

This interpretation of the report is incorrect. Numbers entering HE by 19 remained stable at around 185,000 to 190,000 during a period when universities had recruitment capped.

So what does the report say?

70% of A level and equivalent students at state schools aged 17 in 2008/09 had entered HE by 19 in 2010/11. This dropped to 62% for the equivalent students by 2013/14.

The percentage change is due not to a fall in numbers entering HE (the numerator) but a large change in the denominator: the numbers of 17 year-olds in post-16 education increased significantly between 2008/09 and 2011/12.

Here are the relevant tables (the ‘Total state’ row is the relevent one):


201011 state

Number progressing to HE from all state schools = 186,065
Total aged 17 studying for A levels or equivalent =   264,230

Percentage = 70%


201314 state

Number progressing to HE from all state schools = 187,075
Total aged 17 studying for A levels or equivalent =   300,905

Percentage = 62%

As you can see, the numbers of state school educated students going into HE by 19 has increased very slightly. You might reasonably argue that this percentage is too low (85% of privately educated students continue to go on to HE), but this is very different from claiming a fall in state-educated HE entrants that can be attributed to tuition fees.

The real test on this particular measure of widening participation is what results from uncapping recruitment and the expansion of providers.


(1) I wrote to the Guardian last Monday requesting a correction but no response has been forthcoming.



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