Key performance measure 7

Ratio of outcomes achieved through access to money spent on access

30.9 percentage points

In 2017-18, there was a gap of 30.9 percentage points between the most and least represented groups.

£222 million

There was £222 million spent on promoting fair access.

Gap 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 remained fairly stable.

Provider-level spend through access agreements has risen year-on-year but overall spend on access has 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:

  • 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 2017-18 was to improve entry rates of students from the most under-represented and disadvantaged backgrounds. From 2020-21 onwards there is 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 show in the same year as the spend.

About the measure

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

The measure currently 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.

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

In the future we will develop more ways of measuring underrepresentation.

  • 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 year old entrants.
  • Data sources: Individual 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.

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 the measure aggregates spend on access initiatives in the following areas:

The aggregated spend is then adjusted for inflation cumulatively up to the 2019-20 academic year.

Get the data


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.

Published 26 November 2020

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