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Increase in numbers going to university, but poorest still far less likely to go

24 October 2013 | last updated: 10 December 2015

Figures released today show an increase in overall numbers of young people going to university. However, UCU warned that a raft of policies will do little to close the gap between the numbers of wealthy and poor students choosing higher education.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) report shows the total number of young people in England going on to higher education increased by more than a quarter between the late 1990s and 2011-12, to reach 38 per cent.

However, although participation rates for young people living in the most advantaged and the most disadvantaged areas have both increased, those from the wealthiest areas are three times more likely to go to university. 

The union said a report focusing on young people's participation doesn't account for the 40% drop in part-time study, traditionally popular with mature students.

UCU said policies such as the rise in tuition fees, the scrapping of programmes aimed at encouraging people from poorer backgrounds to consider university, the axing of grants for further education college students and cuts to careers advice would not help close the social gap in university participation rates.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'It's good news that there are more young people from the full range of social backgrounds going to university than ever before, but where someone has grown up still affects their future aspirations.

'The rise in university tuition fees, abolition of the education maintenance allowance and AimHigher, along with cuts to careers advice all are contributing factors to why higher education is not yet a normal aspiration for all young people, regardless of social background or family income.

'We need to study the participation rates of mature students, which offer a great deal of opportunity for universities to widen participation. The numbers of students on undergraduate part-time courses in England plummeted 40% between 2010 and 2012: equivalent to 105,000 fewer students.'