The Widening Socio-Economic Gap in UK Higher Education
This paper provides up-to-date empirical evidence on the socio-economic gap in higher education (HE) participation, for the period spanning the introduction of tuition fees. We assess whether the gap has widened and ask whether the socio-economic gap emerges on entry into university or much earlier in the education system. We do this in two ways. Firstly we consider the likelihood of going to university for school leavers in poor neighbourhoods and analyse changes in this likelihood over time. Secondly, we use more detailed individual level data to model the determinants of HE participation, focusing on changes in the relationship between family background and HE participation over time. We find that the growth in HE participation amongst poorer students has been remarkably high, mainly because it was starting from such a low base. However, the gap between rich and poor, in terms of HE participation, has widened during the 1990s. Children from poor neighbourhoods have become relatively less likely to participate in HE since 1994/5, as compared to children from richer neighbourhoods. This trend started before the introduction of tuition fees. Much of the class difference in HE participation seems to reflect inequalities at earlier stages of the education system.
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