Official statistic

Key performance measure 7

Comparison of access outcomes and money spent on access initiatives

27.7 percentage points

In 2019-20, there was a gap of 27.7 percentage points between the most and least represented groups.

£292 million

In 2019-20, £292 million was spent on promoting fair access.

Gap in participation rates between POLAR4 quintile 5 and quintile 1 compared with access spend

Participation rates of POLAR4 quintile 1 compared with access spend

What does this show?

This measure compares the gap in participation between the most and least represented groups (KPM 1) and the overall participation rate with the amount spent on promoting fair access to higher education.

The overall gap between the groups of students who are most and least likely to take up higher education has reduced steadily in recent years. Meanwhile, spend on access initiatives has risen year-on-year between 2014-15 and 2019-20.

Although participation data is available up to the 2020-21 academic year (see KPM 1), it is not included in this measure because comparable data on spending on access initiatives is not yet available for the 2020-21 academic year.

In earlier years, provider-level spend through access agreements rose, but overall spend on access remained fairly stable due to the removal of the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) widening access fund and the introduction of other targeted programmes such as Uni Connect.

When viewing these figures it is important to note the following:

  • There are many reasons why gaps in participation may change over time. The funding of access initiatives outlined in this measure is likely to be one relevant factor, but other factors may also contribute to changes in participation rates over time.
  • The groups targeted through spending on access have changed during the reporting period. Before 2020-21, access interventions focused on a narrower set of target groups (see notes). The most recent access and participation plans reflect a much wider range of target groups. Therefore, any single outcome measure cannot fully reflect how the access spend was targeted.
  • OFFA’s objective between 2011-12 and 2018-19 was to improve entry rates of students from the most underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds. From 2020-21 onwards there was a new focus in access and participation plans to eliminate gaps in equality in higher education and the outcomes of this new approach will be seen in future reporting.
  • Most access initiatives take place at least one year before participants entering higher education, so the outcomes from access work are unlikely to surface in the same year as the spend.

Further information

The first part of this measure, which considers participation rates, is identical to KPM 1.

The measure considers underrepresented groups based on the participation of local areas (POLAR) classification. It groups the 18-30 year-old population by the POLAR quintile they are living in and compares higher education participation rates.

The participation rate for ‘young’ students were calculated using the same method as KPM 1 but the population was limited to 18 and 19-year-old higher education entrants.

Participation refers to an individual who starts a higher education course at least once.

  • Population: 18-30 year old individuals domiciled in England who have participated in higher education in the UK. The ‘young’ student population is limited to 18 and 19-year-old entrants.
  • Data sources: Participation rates are calculated using individualised student data from HESA, the Individualised Learner Record from ESFA, the POLAR classification of postcodes and population data.

Additional information about the methodology used for this part of the measure is available in our KPM 1 and 2 documentation and annex.

Spend data is described in detail below.

Access initiatives are activities and measures designed to support equal access to higher education for underrepresented groups.

In this context, access investment specifically relates to work targeted on potential students, their families and communities before making choices about entry to higher education.

It includes:

  • outreach work with schools, young people, adults with no prior experience of higher education, communities, and disabled people
  • strategic relationships with schools (strategic partnerships between schools and higher education providers such as sponsoring of an academy, federation or trust, university technical college or free school).

The second part of this key performance measure aggregates spend on access initiatives in the following areas:

  • Funding provided by the OfS (previously HEFCE until 2017-18) to support student access and success for particular student groups. This includes:
  • OFFA access agreements – see Monitoring of the 2018-19 access agreements:
    • The assessment of access agreement and student premium monitoring returns was suspended for the 2018-19 academic year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. We received a total of 262 2018-19 monitoring returns. 21 providers were contacted before assessment was suspended, which would have otherwise continued for all 102 returns with validation errors or notable differences between allocated spend and actual spend. In previous years, this process has typically found some variation between predicted and actual spend, both for access agreement expenditure and student premium funding (partially due to fluctuations in higher fee income received by providers). Given the patterns observed in previous assessments, it is likely that the figures in this release for access agreement spend in 2018-19 are slightly overestimated, while those for student premium spend in 2018-19 are slightly underestimated.
  • Access and participation plan expenditure relating to access (for 2019-20 onwards only)
    • See further information on the monitoring of 2019-20 access participation plans
    • In December 2018, we reformed our approach to access and participation plans and the monitoring of these plans. As such, this data we have published is not comparable to data we have previously published from monitoring of 2018-19 and earlier access agreements.

The aggregated spend is then adjusted for inflation cumulatively up to the 31 March 2022 (using government deflators as of December 2021) and rounded to the nearest pound.

From 2006-07 to 2016-17, guidance from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) focused on the three HESA widening participation performance indicators (LPN (POLAR), NS-SEC (parental occupation), and state schools).

From 2017-18 access agreement targets broadened to include other groups such as care leavers and intersections of disadvantage such as white males from low socio-economic backgrounds.


  • Data for the 2019-20 academic year is now included.
  • Access and participation plan expenditure relating to access replaced OFFA access agreement and student premium spend relating to access.
  • As with previous update, the geographical definitions have been updated to reflect the latest available version. There were also further improvements to the method of identifying the POLAR4 quintile of students. POLAR4 quintiles are now identified using the data from our postcode look-up.
  • Data for the 2018-19 academic year was included.
  • Student Premium funding is now included, where providers have reported this as spend on access initiatives.
  • A correction has been made to our description of the ‘young’ population in this publication. The previous release incorrectly stated that the ‘young’ population was limited to 18 year old entrants only. The text has now been corrected to reflect that both 18 and 19-year-olds are included in this population.


If you have any queries, feedback or suggestions about the statistics published in KPM 7, please contact Stanley Rudkin at [email protected].

If you have any queries about our overall approach or on individual measures, please contact Josh Fleming at [email protected].

Published 26 November 2020
Last updated 24 March 2022
24 March 2022
Annual update - 2019-20 data published and small change to methodology
11 March 2021
Annual update

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