Why Do Students From Deprived Backgrounds Apply to University?

Feb 2020

A Case Study from One College

For the last couple of years, Robin Webber-Jones at Derby College and I have been carrying out some research on higher education widening participation and part of this has been making comparisons of applications to HE at our colleges.  I have been looking at which courses have the highest number of students going on to HE each year and which do not and also examining the proportion of students who apply to HE from more deprived areas.  The Higher Education Funding Council examine each ward in the UK and ascertains what percentage of students from those wards go on to HE.  In some wards in Peterborough and Corby the number of young people who go on to HE in their area can be as low as 12% while in other areas in Stamford or Oakham it can be as high as 55%.  HEFCE divide the wards into Quintiles with applications in Quintile 1 being about 12-18% and in Quintile 5 about 50-60%.

I have examined the students at college who are taking A levels or level 3 vocational programmes and are in their second year. I have ascertained each students post code and thus found which quintile they fall into and then identified whether they have applied to go on to higher education this year – either at university or at the college. I did this last academic year too and in both years expected that the percentage of student who live in Quintiles 1 would be lower and for those who lived in quintile 5 it would be higher.  The results are below:

Breakdown of Applicants to HE by Quintile 2017/18

Quintile Total Number of Students in Level 3 Year 2 Cohort No. of Students Applying to HE in each Quintile Students Applying to HE as % of Quintile Cohort
1 30 17 57
2 57 28 49
3 94 50 53
4 81 44 54
5 116 60 54

The results are very similar to last year.  You might expect that the percentage of students on our courses who live in a Quintile 1 area would be about 15% but you can see that at Stamford it is 57%.  In fact, a higher percentage of students from quintile 1 apply to HE than for quintile 5. You can see that there are far fewer students in quintiles 1 and 2 than there are in quintile 5.  We recruit comparatively few students from more deprived areas on to our level 3 courses.

I carried out this exercise last year and found similar results for students applying to HE. However, in September when I looked at how many students had actually taken up places in higher education I discovered that a number of the students in quintiles 1 and 2 had rejected offers or withdrawn from their applications.  In fact, two students in quintile 2 had received unconditional offers and had still withdrawn.  So it would appear that we are very good at encouraging students from all backgrounds to apply to HE but when it comes to applying for student finance and accepting offers of places, those from more deprived backgrounds are more likely to have cold feet and decide not to go on to HE. As you can see from the table there are about 45 students that fall into this category.

I have all this data broken down by group and would be happy to provide further details if needed.