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New stats underline how HE in FE masks inequality in university entry

November 23, 2015

The recent interim report of the Commission on Widening Access  noted that

Scotland, traditionally, has a high rate of participation in higher education relative to other UK nations. In 2013/14, the Scottish HE Initial Participation Rate for those aged between 16 and 30 was 55%, compared to the English rate of 47%. However, the rate is lower for those from the most deprived areas in Scotland, albeit progress has been made. In 2013/14 the participation rate for those from the most deprived areas in Scotland was 42% – up from 35% in 2006/07. There is no equivalent rate published for English participation.

Ironically, the 42% is no longer a published figure in Scotland, either.

It used to be. Until last year, the Scottish Funding Council provided the HE Initial Participation Rate (HEIPR) broken down by background: see Table G here, which runs the figures up to 2012-13.  However, as of 2013-14 a breakdown at this level ceased to be made public.

However, the figure for that year must have been calculated privately for either the Scottish Government or the Commission and shared between them (it was quoted a couple of times by Ministers in the fortnight before the Commission’s report was published), as the Scottish Funding Council has confirmed that the 42% (technically, 41.7%) is indeed the most recent HEIPR figure for the most deprived 20%.

The shorter 2013-14 report also reassures that breakdowns of the data are still available on request from the SFC, which has helpfully responded to such a request by providing the figure for that year for the most and least deprived 20%, and then broken those down further between entrants to HEIs and HE courses in FE colleges.  This matters, as the Commission’s remit relates specifically to relative access to university.

The result is in the table below.  NB the “least deprived” category referred to in the old Table G now turns out to have been referring to the remaining 80% of students, rather than the least deprived 20%, a point not immediately obvious from the original publication.  This  explains why the gap shown below between the least and most the least deprived is rather  higher than  that shown in earlier publications.

Table E: HEIPR by institution type and deprivation quintile: 2013-14
Number of Entrants* HEIPR Scottish Higher Education Institutions (%) Scottish Further Education Colleges (%) Higher Education Institutions in the rest of the UK (%)
MD20          5,891 41.7% 15.9% 25.4% 0.4%
LD20          9,122 67.5% 47.1% 16.6% 3.8%
Overall        35,955 55.0% 32.4% 20.9% 1.7%
Sources: Scottish Funding Council, HESA, National Records for Scotland
*not all entrants could be matched to a deprivation quintile

The table shows that participation in higher education by the most deprived 20% is heavily dependent on entering HE at an FE college: that route is used by 61% of such students.  Some of these students will of course later transfer to an HEI, but we need to watch we don’t get too comfortable with that. First, most will not move on in that way. Second, there are advantages to going direct to university (such as direct access to subjects not available in FECs, without incurring the cost of extra years of study usually  associated with changing subject between HN and degree). We can also see that the least deprived make relatively little use of the college sector.  Until that changes, we should be very challenging of any argument that the real problem is that “we” just don’t value college-level HE as much as we should.  That’s almost certainly true –  but until the least deprived assess college-level HE as conferring an equal level of advantage as university on their children, Houston, there’s a problem with being too relaxed about it as the appropriate destination for everyone else.

So, that 16% of people make it direct to university from the most deprived backgrounds by the age of 30 is a tough number. Particularly when the figure is three times as high at the other end of the scale.

This breakdown by background and type of institution is not currently available for earlier years, so we cannot tell how it has changed over time.

However it is possible to tell that all  the growth in HEIPR in general since 2006-07 has been in FE colleges.  Again, that detailed breakdown ceased to be published this year. But again it is still available from the SFC.  The relevant tables are here (and also for the YPR, a similar measure looking only at 16 to 19 year olds): HEIPR and YPR from SFC November 2015.  The tables here also provide for the breakdown in participation rates by level of qualification (eg degree/HN), also now lost from automatic publication.

The total HEIPR in 2006-07 was 53.2%.  In 2013-14 it had risen to 55.0%.  Within that, however, the participation rate for HEIs in Scotland had fallen from 32.9% to 32.4%; in HEIs in the rest of the UK, it had fallen from 2.0% to 1.7%; while in FECs it had risen from 18.3% to 20.9%.  So it is at least possible that the growth the Commission identifies in the HEIPR since 2006-07 for the most deprived has been largely in entrants to FECs rather than universities.  The YPR, incidentally, has also seen greater growth in FE colleges, but alongside a smaller increase in HEIs – so something complicated is going on here concerning different patterns of change in participation straight from school and in participation by the age of 30,  which would repay further attention.

There is the problem with taking an unpublished sub-set of a number like the HEIPR and not explaining what it covers (for example, the discussion in subsequent paragraphs the Commission’s report slips straight from discussion of the HEIPR into university-level data). The story it tells may not be quite what many readers will assume – and others cannot immediately check.  Happily, though, the data is there if you ask.












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