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Higher Education

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many and what percentage of young people in the poorest decile of the population attended (a) university and (b) further education in each of the last 30 years. (93516)

This information is not held centrally.

(a) The latest available figures on participation by local areas were published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in January 2005 in “Young participation in higher education”, which is available from the HEFCE website at: The HEFCE report shows participation rates for young people who enter higher education aged 18 or 19 disaggregated by constituency, local education authority (LEA), Learning and Skills Council area and government office region for the years 1997 to 2000 inclusive.

Research1 that compared degree acquisition by age 23 by people whose parents' incomes fell into the highest and lowest income quintiles, for 1981, 1993 and 1999, showed that around 1999, 46 per cent. of children whose parental incomes were in the highest quintile of incomes acquired a degree by age 23 compared with 9 per cent. of children in the lowest quintile. In 1981, the figures were 20 per cent. for the highest quintile and 6 per cent. for the lowest quintile. The research suggests that during the 1990s children whose parental incomes were in the highest quintile of incomes were around five times more likely to acquire a degree by age 23 than children in the lowest quintile, up from around three times in the early 1980s.

We believe that more people with the potential to benefit from higher education should have the opportunity to do so. Higher education leads to a range of benefits, not only higher earnings but reduced crime, better health, and wider social capital benefits.

The new student support arrangements offer a better deal for students from poorer backgrounds. We have reintroduced grants for those from low income households; we have ended up front fees; and we have introduced the Office for Fair Access so that universities have agreements on outreach and funding help that they will offer poorer students. £300 million is being offered in bursaries and other financial support. Alongside this, the Government and their partners support the Aimhigher programme, which enables partnerships of schools, colleges and universities to design and deliver a range of aspiration and attainment raising activities to enable young people from backgrounds currently under-represented in higher education to be able and willing to go on to HE.

We are also determined to improve educational attainment so that more people are in a position to benefit from HE. Our proposals in the Schools White Paper, which is now the basis for the Education and Inspections Bill 2006, will help ensure that every young person has the opportunity to reach their potential, including, where appropriate, university education.

(b) The following table gives evidence from the Youth Cohort Study (YCS) on the proportion of young people in full-time education at age 16 by parental occupation (NS-SEC) for 16-year-olds in 2000, 2002 and 2004. Young people whose parents work in routine and other/not classified occupations are most likely to be in the poorest income groups of the population–13 per cent. and 12 per cent. of the 2004 cohort were in these NS-SEC groups respectively.

1 Blanden, J. and Machin, S., ‘Educational inequality and the expansion of UK higher education’, Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Special Issue on the Economics of Education, 51 (2) pp. 230-249 (2004).

Percentage whose main activity is full-time education at age 16 by NS- SEC




Higher professional




Lower professional








Lower supervisory








Other/not classified2




2 Includes many respondents for whom neither parent had an occupation.


Youth Cohort Study cohorts 10-12, sweep 1