Higher education participation rates look to have bounced back this year after falling significantly in 2012-13 when £9,000 tuition fees were introduced, a new report says.
Having almost hit the 50 per cent target set by Tony Blair’s Labour government (the entry rate for 17 to 30 year-olds without prior higher experience was 49 per cent in 2011-12), participation rates in England fell back to 43 per cent last year, according to a study published the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
That was the lowest participation rate for six years, but was largely caused by the slump in university deferrals in 2012-13 after students in the previous admissions cycle had scrambled to avoid higher fees by finding a place in 2011-12, says the report titled Participation Rates in Higher Education: 2006-07 to 2012-13, which was published on 28 August.
Deferral patterns were likely to return to normal in 2013-14, with the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate (an estimate of the entry rate of people aged 17 to 30 who had not previously entered higher education) likely to show an increase when 2013-14 figures are published, the report says.
According to the report, about 24 per cent of 18-year-olds entered higher education in 2012-13, down from 26 per cent the previous year.
About 9 per cent of 19-year-olds entered higher education for the first time in 2012-13, down from 12 per cent in 2011-12, while entry rates for ages in the 20+ range vary from 3 per cent to 0.4 per cent, it adds.
The HEIPR for women aged 17 to 30 was 47 per cent in 2012-13 – down from 54 per cent in 2011-12 – compared with 39 per cent for men (down from 45 per cent), which means the gender participation gap narrowed last year after the fall-off in student numbers.
Participation rates may, in fact, be higher than official figures suggest, the report also says.
An estimated 6,500 English students may have opted to study at overseas universities in 2011, while Student Loan Company data shows about 15,000 students started courses at private providers that year.
Once included in the calculations, these could add 1 and 2.1 percentage points to the participation total, a figure that could be further boosted if non-SLC students at private providers are included.
BIS is due to publish provisional data on participation rates in 2013-14 in spring 2015, the report adds. Figures on participation are normally published in late-August.