Findings from the data

We have summarised the key gaps in access, continuation and attainment at a sector level for different student characteristics.

These measures are all reported using data available from the access and participation dataset (as at March 2022).

You can read the full report below, or see a summary of the key findings.

Summary of the key findings

Access to higher education

These measures show the make-up of students entering higher education.

In 2020-21, the proportion of 18-year-olds entering full-time higher education in England from areas where young people are the least represented in higher education (POLAR4 quintile 1) was 5.8 percentage points lower than the proportion of 18-year-olds living in these areas in the UK.

This gap has closed slightly over the last five years, from 6.9 percentage points in 2016-17.

Sector-level time series of gaps in the proportion of least represented 18-year-olds entering full-time higher education compared with the population

This graph has two lines, one for POLAR4 quintile 1 in the population and one for POLAR4 quintile 1 in higher education. It shows the proportion of 18-year-olds in each of these groups for each year. The bottom line is for POLAR4 quintile 1 in higher education, which starts at around 11.3 per cent in 2016-17 and increases slightly to 12 per cent in 2020-21. The other line is for POLAR4 quintile 1 in the population and the proportions of 18-year-olds are higher in every year. They change very little over the time period: from 18.2 per cent in 2016-17 to 17.9 per cent in 2020-21. The gaps that exist between these two lines are also shown and they are reducing in size very slightly each year. They change from 6.9 percentage points in 2016-17 to 5.8 percentage points in 2020-21.
Characteristic Category Proportion of 18-year-olds in UK population (%) Proportion of 18-year-olds in English higher education sector (%) Gap between population and higher education sector (pp)

Ethnicity

Asian

8.3

17.2

-9.0

 

Black

3.6

7.5

-3.9

 

Mixed

3.2

5.4

-2.3

 

Other

1.1

2.2

-1.1

 

White

83.9

67.7

16.2

IMD

Quintile 1

22.1

17.6

4.5

 

Quintile 5

19.9

25.4

-5.5

POLAR4

Quintile 1

17.9

12.0

5.8

 

Quintile 5

23.8

30.7

-6.9

Sex

Female

48.5

56.0

-7.6

 

Male

51.5

44.0

7.6

Continuation

These measures show whether or not students continue their studies.

There was a 6.5 percentage point gap between the proportion of full-time students from the most and least deprived areas (IMD quintile 5 and quintile 1) continuing into their second year in 2020-21. This gap had been increasing in recent years, but the increase in continuation for students from IMD quintile 1 helped to narrow the gap. 

Sector-level time series of gaps in full-time continuation rates between students from the most and least deprived areas by academic year of entry

This graph has two lines, one for students from IMD quintile 1 (the most disadvantaged) and one for students from IMD quintile 5 (the least disadvantaged). It shows the continuation rate for the full-time undergraduate students in each of these groups for each year. The bottom line is for students from IMD quintile 1 areas and the rate declines very slightly over the first four years, followed by a noticeable increase in year 5. For those who entered in 2019-20 the rate is 88.1 per cent.  

The other line is for students from IMD quintile 5 areas and is virtually flat for the first 4 years, followed by a small increase in year 5. For those students who entered in 2019-20 the rate is 94.6 per cent. 

The gaps that exist between these two lines gradually increase. For entrants in 2015-16 the gap is 7.6 percentage points and for entrants in 2019-20 the gap is 6.5 percentage points.
Characteristic Category Full-time UG rate (%) Full-time UG gap (pp) Part-time UG rate (%) Part-time UG gap (pp)

Age

Young *

93.6

 

71.8

 

 

Mature

86.1

7.5

67.4

4.5

Disability

No disability reported *

91.6

 

69.0

 

 

Disability reported

90.4

1.2

62.5

6.6

Disability type

No disability reported *

91.6

 

69.0

 

 

Cognitive or learning difficulties

92.1

-0.6

68.9

0.2

 

Mental health condition

88.7

2.9

56.8

12.2

 

Multiple or other impairments

90.4

1.2

61.4

7.7

 

Sensory, medical or physical impairments

90.1

1.5

65.1

3.9

 

Social or communication impairment

89.2

2.4

64.0

5.0

Ethnicity

White *

92.0

 

68.3

 

 

Asian

92.3

-0.2

67.6

0.7

 

Black

87.4

4.7

63.9

4.5

 

Mixed

90.6

1.5

65.5

2.9

 

Other

89.2

2.8

69.0

-1.0

IMD

Quintile 5 *

94.6

 

73.7

 

 

Quintile 1

88.1

6.5

63.4

10.3

POLAR4

Quintile 5 *

95.2

 

76.0

 

 

Quintile 1

91.4

3.8

65.1

10.8

Sex

Male *

89.9

 

68.2

 

 

Female

92.5

-2.6

67.7

0.5

Notes: Attributes with a * indicate those against which other attributes are compared when deriving gaps. Because of rounding, the gaps shown in the table might not be the same as the difference between two rates.

Attainment

These measures examine the proportions of students who achieve a 1st or 2:1.

The attainment rate for full-time black students is consistently much lower than for full-time white students across the five-year time series. Although the gap has closed by around six percentage points in the last five years, it remains very large, at 17.4 percentage points in 2020-21.

Sector-level time series of gaps in full-time attainment rates between white and black students

This graph has two lines, one for white students and one for black students. It shows the attainment rate for the full-time undergraduate students in each of these groups for each year.  

The bottom line is for black students and the attainment rate increases very slightly over the first three years (from 57.3 per cent in 2016-17 to 60.1 per cent in 2018-19). There is a notably increase between 2018-19 and 2019-20, after which it increases again, but more slowly. In 2019-20 the rate is 69.3 per cent. 

The upper line is for white students and the pattern over the five years is the same. The attainment rate increases very slightly over the first three years (from 81.1 per cent in 2016-17 to 82.2 per cent in 2018-19). There is a notably increase between 2018-19 and 2019-20, after which it increases again, but more slowly. In 2019-20 the rate is 86.8 per cent. 

The gaps that exist between these two lines are also shown. In 2016-17 the gap is 23.8 percentage points, this decreases over the 5 year period to 17.4 percentage points in 2020-21.
Characteristic Category Full-time UG rate (%) Full-time UG gap (pp) Part-time UG rate (%) Part-time UG gap (pp)

Age

Young *

85.8

 

56.5

 

 

Mature

76.3

9.5

68.2

-11.7

Disability

No disability reported *

84.1

 

66.4

 

 

Disability reported

83.1

1.1

63.5

2.9

Disability type

No disability reported *

84.1

 

66.4

 

 

Cognitive or learning difficulties

81.8

2.3

57.0

9.5

 

Mental health condition

84.3

-0.2

65.2

1.2

 

Multiple or other impairments

83.7

0.4

65.2

1.3

 

Sensory, medical or physical impairments

83.4

0.7

66.0

1.0

 

Social or communication impairment

80.8

3.3

70.0

-4.0

Ethnicity

White *

86.8

 

70.5

 

 

Asian

81.0

5.8

50.8

19.7

 

Black

69.3

17.4

39.3

31.2

 

Mixed

84.2

2.5

60.0

10.0

 

Other

78.6

8.2

50.0

21.0

IMD

Quintile 5 *

89.7

 

73.6

 

 

Quintile 1

74.9

14.8

54.2

19.4

POLAR4

Quintile 5 *

89.4

 

61.5

 

 

Quintile 1

80.8

8.6

52.0

9.0

Sex

Male *

82.4

 

66.8

 

 

Female

85.0

-2.5

65.3

1.5

Note: Attainment rate reflects students obtaining a 1st or 2:1 degree. Attributes with a * indicate the one against which other attributes are compared against when deriving gaps. Because of rounding, the gaps shown in the table might not be the same as the difference between two rates.

Graduate outcomes: progression to highly skilled employment

The progression data currently shown in the dashboard uses data from the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey, and remains the same as the data that we published last year. Please see the 2020 sector summary report for an analysis of progression data in this release.

Archive reports

For key findings from previous years, download reports from our archives.

Published 07 May 2020
Last updated 24 March 2022
24 March 2022
Updated with annual release of data
11 March 2021
Updated with annual release of data

Describe your experience of using this website

Improve experience feedback
* *

Thank you for your feedback