Londoners’ university attendance on the rise

Hefce figures show disparities between young people from the capital going to university compared with those from English regions

October 24, 2013

A dramatic increase in the number of young Londoners entering higher education has not been matched by figures for other parts of England.

The proportion of 18-year-olds from the capital attending university rose from 35 per cent in 1998-99 to 48 per cent in 2011-12, a Higher Education Funding Council for England analysis says.

But other regions failed to see the same improvement, according to the report, Trends in Young Participation in Higher Education, published on 24 October.

For instance, in the South West, the proportion of 18-year-olds in higher education grew by just 4 percentage points to about 35 per cent.

London’s improving schools, abundance of higher education providers and variety of educational outreach charities helped to explain the rising number of Londoners attending university, said Graeme Atherton, head of AccessHE, which coordinates outreach projects for universities in the capital.

“It is also to do with ethnicity because certain ethnic groups are participating well now,” said Dr Atherton, formerly director of Aimhigher West, Central and North London. “You had five or six Aimhigher partnerships, so you had an ecosystem of [outreach] – some of which continues to operate.”

Young people from London are on average 43 per cent more likely to participate in higher education than their peers in the North East, who are least likely to go to university, despite a 31 per cent rise in attendance since the late 1990s, the report says.

Pupils from former industrial towns in the Midlands and the North, rural parts of the South West, plus the East Midlands, the East of England and seaside towns are also less likely to attend.

Richard Gould, chief executive of Villiers Park Educational Trust, which runs support programmes for schools in coastal towns such as Hastings and Clacton, said the lack of nearby universities was a key reason for low participation.

“First-generation students often do not want to travel far from home, so not having a local university is a problem,” he said. “It means there are few role models, such as brothers or sisters who have been to university who can talk to others about their experience.”

Universities were also reluctant to undertake outreach work in areas far from their own localities, given the extra costs and low chances of success in deprived coastal towns, Mr Gould added.

If each pupil’s destination was properly tracked, the input from university outreach schemes could be better measured and would count towards university access agreements wherever they went, thereby encouraging institutions to look further afield, he argued.

“The University of Cambridge is supporting our Hastings programme, but only one or two pupils might go there…others might decide to go to the University of Brighton,” he said. “These universities should have some statistics to show that all their hard work and funding has had an impact on getting students to university.”

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