Demographic design

October 1, 1999

There are dangers in using geodemographic classification or social class of applicants or accepted students to analyse the success or otherwise of higher education in widening access ("New data, same old story", THES, September 24).

The class structure of the UK is dynamic, so evaluating Universities and Colleges Admissions Service trends on class needs to take this into account. The distribution of the class groups can be visualised as a diamond that over time gets fatter in the middle and sharper at the ends. In other words, the UK is becoming more middle class. This should come as no surprise, given the expansion of participation in post-compulsory education and the shift to a service/knowledge-based economy. In this context, we have to run simply to stand still in terms of socioeconomic composition.

Perhaps the best measure of the sector's responsiveness on the access issue would be to benchmark its admissions against the proportion of the age cohort from each class or geodemographic group that achieves the qualification threshold to apply.

As for the old chestnut about fees being the cause of the decline in mature entrants, a better explanation is to be found in an analysis of the demographics of the population and the dramatic increase in participation by young people. Many who in the past would have entered later in life are now doing so aged 18. Unless many have an odd desire to gain two undergraduate degrees by full-time study, there will be a natural market cannibalism impact.

David Roberts

Chief executive, Heist

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