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Widening participation summary: UK Performance Indicators 2016/17

UK Performance Indicators: Widening Participation

This summary contains overview information on: State school marker | Low participation neighbourhoods | Disabled Students' Allowance

View the detailed widening participation tables

The purpose of the indicators is to provide an objective measure of how the UK higher education (HE) sector is performing.

Three key areas are covered, with the first of these being widening participation. This is the focus of this summary, which explores the proportion of entrants from disadvantaged backgrounds or in receipt of disabled students’ allowance (DSA). Future publications this year will look at student retention and graduate employment. Only UK domiciled undergraduate entrants to publicly funded UK HE providers and the University of Buckingham are considered.

As in 2015/16, we examine only two potential measures of background, namely the state school marker and the POLAR3 indicator.

The use of the National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC) as a measure has been discontinued, following concerns about the quality of the data collected for this variable. This is discussed in greater depth here.

State school marker

Table series T1 provides the proportion of young entrants to each UK HE provider that are from state schools or colleges.

The three tables in T1 split the population by whether they are on a first degree or other undergraduate course, as well as providing the overall young full-time undergraduate entrant picture.

In Table A below, we provide a time-series which documents how the percentage of young full-time first degree entrants from state schools or colleges has changed over time across the four nations. Chart 1 illustrates the pattern in the UK overall, whilst Chart 2 demonstrates how the proportion varies within the HE sector.

Additional information on how the state school marker is generated is provided at the end of this publication.






Low participation neighbourhoods

Table series T1 and T2 include data on students from low participation neighbourhoods covering both young and mature entrants on full-time and part-time undergraduate courses.

The definition of a low participation neighbourhood in 2016/17 is based on POLAR3, first introduced in 2011/12. It has been run back to 2009/10 for comparison purposes.

This replaced the POLAR2 classification, which was used from 2006/07 up until the creation of POLAR3. Prior to the POLAR categorisation, the Super Profiles method was utilised to determine low participation neighbourhoods.

While we continue to provide a table looking at the proportion of entrants from low participation neighbourhoods over time for each country across the POLAR3, POLAR2 and Super Profile measures, it should be noted that these indicators are not comparable.

Table B shows how the proportion of this group of students has evolved in the various UK countries. Low participation data is not produced for HE providers in Scotland and are not included in these tables and charts. The table can be filtered by mode of study and age, as well as according to the method used to determine whether an individual is from a low participation neighbourhood.

Chart 3 supplies the time-series data for the UK overall and Chart 4 displays the disparities in the percentages from such groups across HE providers.

Among full-time first degree entrants, the percentages from low participation neighbourhoods according to the POLAR3 method has steadily risen over time across the UK.

With regards to part-time undergraduate entrants, a clear discrepancy is seen in the proportion from low participation neighbourhoods by age, with higher percentages reported for young students.


Due to the varying ways in which low participation neighbourhoods have been defined over the years, these changes have been highlighted by the use of different colours in Chart 3 below. These different methods are not comparable and hence analysing time trends should only be done using the same classification method. It should also be noted that from 2014/15 students studying at the Open University are counted within the country where their national centre was located in Table B and Chart 3 rather than all being counted in England, refer to changes for more information.




Disabled Students' Allowance

Here, we define a disabled student as one in receipt of DSA. Table T7 provides a breakdown by HE provider and Table C below gives sector level time trends for the proportion of DSA students for each country by mode of study. Please note that changes to DSA mean that Table T7 produced for this academic year is not comparable to the table for previous years.

Chart 5 shows how the proportion of DSA students differs across HE providers in the UK for full-time first degree entrants only.

In the table for part-time undergraduate entrants, a separate column is provided for the OU. This is due to the funding arrangements for these students being different at the OU compared to all other HE providers.



View the detailed widening participation tables


Are figures for the proportion of student entrants from state schools or colleges comparable over time?

Our figures do not factor in changes that may have occurred to the underlying population (e.g. how the percentage of secondary school pupils attending state schools or colleges has evolved in the UK over time).

Secondly, there has been a change in the way the state school marker is created. For new entrants from 2014/15, the last provider attended field we collect (PREVINST) must contain a valid UK Provider Reference Number (the unique identifier allocated to each provider) or a valid generic code (see here for further details), rather than historic UCAS, department and HESA school codes.

These have been mapped to school type and grouped to form the state school marker. In the case of an unknown or invalid PREVINST code, students have been excluded from the formation of the indicator. This alteration may have an impact on the quality of the school type data.

For these reasons, caution must be exercised when analysing the time series data.

Who classifies as a young entrant?

Young entrants are those aged under 21, whilst mature students are those aged 21 or over.

How do you define a state school or college?

This covers all schools and colleges (including further education colleges and publicly funded HE providers) that are not classed as independent.

Why is the state school marker so high for Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, all schools are categorised as state in the lookup file used to produce the widening participation indicators. Although there are fee paying schools, the schools also receive some state funding.

What is the POLAR methodology?

The POLAR classification places local areas into five quintiles, based on the higher education participation rates of 18 year olds in the locality. Those with the lowest percentages are placed into quintile 1 and are considered to be the most disadvantaged, with quintile 5 having the highest rates.

An individual is deemed to be from a low participation neighbourhood if their area falls into quintile 1.

Please note that the various ways in which low participation neighbourhoods have been defined over the years are not comparable and hence analysing time trends should be done using the same classification method.

For more information on POLAR3 and POLAR2, please refer to our widening participation definitions. The distinction between the Super Profile and POLAR2 method can be found here.

Why is there no data for the proportion of entrants from low participation neighbourhoods in Scotland?

The relatively high (in UK terms) participation rate in Scotland coupled with the very high proportion of HE that occurs in further education colleges means that the figures for Scottish HE providers could, when viewed in isolation, misrepresent their contribution to widening participation. Therefore, low participation data has not been produced for HE providers in Scotland. More information is provided here.

How are the OU students dealt with?

Prior to 2014/15, all OU entrants were considered to be in England, where the university has its administrative centre. However, since 2014/15, entrants have been allocated to the country where their national centre is located.

DSA data for the OU has been excluded for the academic years 2007/08 and 2008/09, due to changes introduced by HESA to the method of apportioning full-time equivalent between years which has affected the count of OU part-time students. In 2014/15, the OU under-reported the number of students in receipt of DSA in England and Wales. See here for further details.

Where can I find information on any merger or changes to HE providers?

These can be found here.

Are there any additional notes on the UK Performance Indicators to accompany this publication?

For more information relating to the UK Performance Indicators, please click here.

What changes have occurred to DSA?

Changes to the Disabled Student Allowances administered through Student Finance England took effect in the academic years 2015/16 and 2016/17. These changes rebalanced responsibility for supporting disabled students, with HE providers providing certain aspects of disability related support previously funded via the DSAs, including funding to support specialist equipment and accommodation costs. Further details have been published on the changes to DSA. As a result of these changes, the Performance Indicator reported in Table T7 - Participation of UK domiciled students in higher education who are in receipt of Disabled Students' Allowance for the 2016/17 cohort - is not consistent with previous years.