Risk 12: Progression from higher education

Students may not have equal opportunity to progress to an outcome they consider to be a positive reflection of their higher education experience.


Some students do not have equal opportunity to access certain outcomes from higher education, such as further study or progressing into employment that is reflective of their qualification levels.

This can be due to factors such as financial position, access and time to undertake extracurricular or supra-curricular activities, and lack of information and guidance.

Experiencing this risk is likely to impact a student at the access, on-course and at the progression stages of their education.

  • Differences in equality of opportunity relating to progression may lead to lower progression to further study for students with particular characteristics.
  • It may also lead to low diversity in specific areas of the labour-market, lower earning for students with certain characteristics, and lower levels of job satisfaction.

Students who are:

  • from a low household income
  • parents
  • vocational learners
  • female students*
  • care experienced
  • estranged
  • Muslim
  • from a socio-economic background of 'routine occupations' or 'semi-routine occupations'
  • from a socio-economic background of 'intermediate occupations'
  • from a socio-economic background of 'small employers and own account workers'
  • from a socio-economic background of 'Lower supervisory and technical occupations'
  • from a socio-economic background of 'never worked' or 'long-term unemployed'
  • young carers
  • from Gypsy, Traveller or Roma ethnic groups, or the Boater and Showmen communities
  • other ethnicity
  • mixed ethnicity
  • Asian
  • black students
  • mature
  • students reporting a mental health condition
  • disabled
  • first in family.

Note that the ordering does not denote a scale or ranking system.


It is important to consider how different student characteristics might interact with each other, and with school and areas-based characteristics. Providers may also wish to consider whether the mode of study heightens a risk. It is therefore recommended that providers consider intersectionality closely when looking at their own data.

For different groups of students, the impact of these risks that are visible in data might be:

  • low progression rates to further study
  • lower uptake of further study places
  • higher proportion of students in ‘over-qualified’ positions
  • lower salaries after a certain number of years
  • graduate reflections in the Graduate Outcomes Survey.

Although this is a national risk, the extent to which it is seen at each provider may depend on factors such as:

  • size
  • location
  • whether the provider recruits locally or nationally
  • the extent of on-course academic and personal support.

We therefore encourage providers to examine their own data to establish if this risk to equality of opportunity affects their current or potential student population.

Adamecz-Volgyi, A., Henderson, M., Shure, N. (2021) ‘Intergenerational Educational Mobility – The Role of Non-cognitive Skills’ | IZA - Institute of Labor Economics. (Accessed 12/12/2023)          

Advance HE (2018) ‘Research insight: Religion and Belief in UK Higher Education’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)           

Baowen Xue, Rebecca E. Lacey, Giorgio Di Gessa, Anne McMunn (2023) ‘Does providing informal care in young adulthood impact educational attainment and employment in the UK?’, Advances in Life Course Research,Volume 56,2023,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.alcr.2023.100549.                       

Britton, J., Dearden, L. & Waltmann, B. (2021) ‘The returns to undergraduate degrees by socio-economic group and ethnicity’. Institute for Fiscal Studies.          

Crawford, C. & Van der Erve, L. (2015) ‘Does Higher Education Level the Playing Field? Socio-Economic Differences in Graduate Earnings. Education Sciences’. 5 (4), 380– 412. doi: https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci5040380.        

Department for Education (2018) ‘Outcomes for pupils eligible for free school meals and identified with special educational needs’. Ad-hoc statistics. (Accessed 12/01/2024) 

Harrison, N. (2017) ‘Moving on up. National Network for the Education of Care Leavers’

Hauari, H. Hollingworth, K., Cameron, C (2019) ‘Getting it right for care experienced students in higher education’. UCL.         

Henehan, K. & Rose, H. (2018) ‘Opportunities Knocked? Exploring pay penalties among the UK’s ethnic minorities’. Resolution Foundation           

HEPI (2023) ‘Student Academic Experience Survey 2023’. HEPI.(Accessed 12/12/2023)    

K Ellis, C Johnston (2019) ‘Pathways to University from Care: Findings Report One’. DOI: 10.15131/shef.data.9578930) Pathways findings report (1).pdf  

Leonard Cheshire, ‘Reimagining the workplace: disability and inclusive employment.’ February 2019. (Accessed 11/01/2024)       

Lessard-Phillips, L., Boliver, V., Pampaka, M., & Swain, D. (2018). ‘Exploring ethnic differences in the post-university destinations of Russell Group graduates’. Ethnicities, 18(4), 496-517. 

Office for Students (2021) ‘Insight 9 May 2021 Improving opportunity and choice for mature students’. (Accessed 10/12/23)           

Office for Students (2023) ‘Student characteristics data: Outcomes data dashboard’. (Accessed 11/12/2023)          

Prospects (2019) ‘What do graduates do? Regional edition’, October 2019. (Accessed 01/12/2023)    

Sam Friedman, Daniel Laurison (2020) ‘The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged, Social Forces’, Volume 99, Issue 1, September 2020, Page e5, https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/soz170; advance_he_-_understanding_racism_report.pdf (warwick.ac.uk)          

Samatar, A., Sardar, Z., TheAziz Foundation (2023) ‘Transitions: Brisith Muslims between undergraduate and PGT studies’. (Accessed 11/01/2024) 

Social Mobility Commission (2017) ‘The Social Mobility Challenges Faced by Young Muslims’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)          

Social Mobility Commission ‘State of the Nation 2023: People and places’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)     

TASO (2023) ‘Rapid review to support development of the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)    

The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (2019). ‘What happens next?’ 2019. September 2019. (Accessed 12/12/2023)          

The Sutton Trust & Social Mobility Commission (2019) ‘Elitist Britain: The educational backgrounds of Britain's leading people’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)           

Wakeling, P. & Mateos-González, J.L. (2021) ‘Inequality in the highest degree'. The Sutton Trust. (Accessed 11/01/2024)

Published 29 March 2023
Last updated 18 January 2024
18 January 2024
We have published a list of references that informed this risk.

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