Official statistic: Key performance measure 1

Gap in participation between most and least represented groups ​

29.9 percentage points

In 2018-19, there was a gap of 29.9 percentage points between the most and least represented groups

We have postponed setting a target for this measure – learn more

Gap between POLAR4 quintile 5 and quintile 1 (shown as a percentage point difference)

Gap between POLAR4 quintile 5 and quintile 1 (shown as a ratio)

What does this show?

This measure shows the progress the sector has made on 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. The more this gap narrows, the more we can say that background does not limit access to higher education. The most represented students were 2.08 times more likely to participate in higher education than the least represented in 2018-19.

The measure currently considers underrepresented groups based on the participation of local areas (POLAR) classification. It groups areas across the UK based on the proportion of the 18-30 year-old population that participates in higher education. Participation refers to an individual having started a higher education course at least once. In the future we will develop more ways of measuring underrepresentation.

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About the measure

The measure uses the rate of participation among 18-30 year olds by POLAR quintile.

  • Frequency: Annual
  • Population: 18-30 year old students domiciled in England who have participated in higher education in the UK
  • Data sources: Individual student data from HESA, the Individualised Learner Record from ESFA, the POLAR classification of postcodes and population data
  • Available: January, 6 months after the end of the academic year in which a student enters higher education.

Additional information about the methodology used is available in our KPM 1 and 2 documentation and annex.


Corrections were made to an error that prevented the population from being restricted to 18-30 year olds as required by the definition of the KPM. It was originally published based on the proportion of the working age population (16-65 year olds) that participates in higher education.

  • Calculation of participation rates are based on the revised versions of the population data as updated by the Office for National Statistics, which included minor amendments such as increases or decreases in individuals of certain ages in some geographical areas. This may have led to small changes in the measure as the number of people in each POLAR4 quintile may be slightly different.
  • Calculation of new entrants and previous entrants take into account higher education level apprenticeships which was previously unaccounted for in the previous methodology. As a result, participation rates calculated by the updated methodology have increased due to an increase in the number of participants in higher education, particularly after 2015, where data on apprentices from the Higher Education Statistics Agency became available.
  • Adjustments were made to the population data to account for all students whose permanent and temporary addresses reflected a shift in POLAR categories. Adjustments allowed for higher accuracy in measuring the number of people in each POLAR quintile. The previous methodology adjusted the number of participants who moved between quintiles based on the number of new entrants who moved between quintiles in post-2009 data, where both permanent and temporary addresses were available. The current methodology based the adjustments on the number of all students who moved between quintiles instead of just the new entrants. These changes to the adjustment methods have impacted the number of participants grouped by each POLAR4 quintile, which will affect participation rates.
  • Geographical definitions used have been updated to reflect the latest available version. This may have led to small changes in the measure as the number of people in each POLAR4 quintile, which is a geography based measure, may be slightly different.
  • Changes were made to ensure that age is correctly recorded for higher level apprentices. Their age is now consistent with when the data was collected. Previously, it was based on the most recent year of data for the individual. This has increased the total number of participants in this measure.


If you have any queries, feedback or suggestions about the statistics published as KPMs 1 and 2, please contact Norra Tengcharoensuk at [email protected].

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

Last updated 02 April 2020
02 April 2020
Annual update
02 May 2019
Annual update
16 November 2018
Corrections to an error

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