New report by NEON shows differences in white working class students going to university by higher education provider

New research looking at the how the participation of white students from areas of low higher education (HE) participation varies by HE provider in England, shows over 50% of universities admit less than 5% of white students from the low participation neighbourhoods (LPN). These students are far more likely to be found undertaking HE courses in Further Education (FE) colleges, some of whom have nearly 50% of their students from these backgrounds. If all universities could admit at least 5% white LPN students there would be nearly 10,000 more students in HE.


The research also looked at what HE providers were doing to address this challenge and found that while over 90% of those surveyed undertaking some of activity to try and increase HE participation for these learners. However, strategic commitment was more variable with less than 20% having targets related to this group in their Access and Participation plans they submit to the HE regulator the Office for Students (OfS).

The research produced by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON), a division of London Higher, which is the professional organisation for access to higher education work in England draws upon UCAS data from 2016-17, a survey of over 50 HE providers looking at the work they are undertaking with this group of learners and also examines Access and Participation Plans for over 120 HE providers for 2019-2020 submitted to the Office for Students (OfS).

As Dr. Graeme Atherton, Director of NEON and co-author of the report states:

“This report shows that while there is some innovative work being undertaken in the HE sector to address the low levels of participation of this group of students, big variability exists in their chances of participating in HE across providers. We need to know more about why this variability exists and do more to eliminate it”.

The report argues that action on a number of fronts is needed. This includes more explicit targets for improvement across HE providers, looking again at the data used to define who is in this group of learners and securing longer term funding commitments to activities to support participation in HE or these students. It also argues for a national initiative to address the educational performance of white learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds which brings together schools, colleges and the HE sector.

Read the report:  ‘Working Class Heroes – Understanding access to higher education for white students from lower socio-economic backgrounds’


For more information please contact Maria Anna Petrou.