Risk 2: Information and guidance

Students may not have equal opportunity to receive the information and guidance that will enable them to develop ambition and expectations, or to make informed choice about their higher education options.


A student’s home circumstances, their school and access to resources in their local area may affect the amount and the quality of information that they receive about higher education options and future career progression.

This can occur early on in a student’s education and affect aspects such as their Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 course choice, or it may apply at the point of application, and limit both the choice and quality of a student’s application.

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

  • Low quality, or a lack of, information and guidance may result in differential application patterns for different groups of students, and lower application success rates even where prior attainment has been controlled for.
  • This may subsequently result in lower progression rates to higher education overall, and to highly selective providers and/or certain course types for some groups of students.
  • It may result in lower on course attainment, continuation and completion rates
  • It may also result in differences in labour market outcomes, where poor guidance on Key Stage 5 subjects and/or university course choice subsequently results in a narrowing of options for certain student groups.

Students who are:

  • from a low household income
  • first in family
  • disabled 
  • mature
  • black students
  • white students
  • mixed ethnicity students
  • from Gypsy, Traveller or Roma ethnic groups, or the Boater and Showmen communities
  • service children
  • young carers
  • estranged
  • care experienced
  • female.

Note that this 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 area-based characteristics. Providers may also wish to consider whether mode of study heightens a risk.

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

  • differential application patterns by course type and/or subject
  • lower progression rates to highly selective providers
  • low offer rates, even after controlling for prior attainment
  • differences in labour market outcomes, even after controlling for prior on-course attainment
  • higher drop-out rate between course acceptance and course start
  • low application assessment scores
  • low attainment rates on-course
  • low continuation rates on-course
  • low completion rates on-course

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

  • location
  • entrance tariff
  • whether the provider recruits nationally or locally.

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

Access HE (2021). ‘Best Laid Plans: London's 'Covid Cohort' and Progression to Higher Education’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

Advance HE (2019) ‘2019 UK Engagement Survey’. Advance HE. (Accessed 12/02/2024)

Anders, J., Henderson, M., Moulton V., & Sullivan, A. (2018) ‘The role of schools in explaining individuals’ subject choices at age 14’, Oxford Review of Education, 44:1, 75-93, DOI: 10.1080/03054985.2018.1409973

Archer, A., Higton, J., Sibieta, L., and Tahir, I. (2021), ‘The Road Not Taken: The Drivers of Course Selection’, Social Mobility Commission

Atherton, G., Satchell, L. (2023) ‘Under the Radar: Service Children and Higher Education in England’. The Service Children's Progression Alliance. (Accessed 11/01/2024)

Bland, B. & Shaw, J. (2015) ‘New Starts: The challenges of Higher Education without the support of a family network’. Unite Foundation & Standalone

Campbell, S., Macmillan, L., Wyness, G., Bryson, A., Stokes, L., & Wilkinson, D. (2019) ‘Mismatch in higher education: prevalence, drivers and outcomes’

Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes (TASO), ‘Analysis report: Supporting access and student success for mature learners’, April 2021.

Chowdry, H., Crawford, C., Dearden, L., Goodman, A. and Vignoles, A. (2013), ‘Widening participation in higher education: analysis using linked administrative data’. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 176: 431-457. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-985X.2012.01043.x

Crawford, C., Macmillan, L. & Vignoles, A. (2014) ‘Progress made by high-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds’. Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission.

Crawford, C., Macmillan, L. & Vignoles, A. (2014) ‘Progress made by high-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds’. Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission.;

Department for Education and IFF Research (2019). ‘Evaluation of disabled students’ allowances. January 2019’. (Accessed on 15/12/2023)

Donnelly, M., & Gamsu, S. (2018) ‘Home and away: Social, ethnic and spatial inequalities in student mobility’. The Sutton Trust. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

Farquharson, C. and Greaves, E. (2021). ‘Even high-achieving pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds miss out on some university opportunities – but mentoring programmes can help’. Institute for Fiscal Studies.

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.

Henderson, M., Sullivan, A., Anders, J. & Moulton, V. (2018) ‘Social Class, Gender and Ethnic Differences in Subjects Taken at Age 14’. The Curriculum Journal. 29 (3), 298–318.

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

Holt-White, E., & Cullinane, C (2023) ‘Social Mobility: The Next Generation’. The Sutton Trust & COSMO Covid Social Monility & Opportunities Study. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

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

London School of Economics (2021): ‘Journeys into higher education and employment: The impact of covid-19 on young people’.

Montacute, R., & Cullinane, C (2018) ‘Parent power: How parents use financial and cultural resources to boost their children's chances of success’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

Morag Henderson, Nikki Shure and Anna Adamecz-Völgyi (2020) , 'Moving on up: "first in family" university graduates in England', Oxford Review of Education, 11 August 2020, p.13

Office for Students (2022) ‘Insight brief 13: Schools, attainment and the role of higher education’. (Accessed 11/12/2023)

Office for Students (2023) ‘Insight brief 19. Protecting students as consumers’.

Thomas, L. and Jones, R. (2018). ‘Student engagement in the context of commuter students’

UCAS ‘Next Steps: What is the experience of disabled students in education?’ (Accessed 11/01/2024)

UCAS: ‘Where Next? What influences the choices school leavers make?’ (Accessed 11/01/2023)

WONKHE & Pearson (2022) ‘Building Belonging in Higher Education: Recommendations for developing an integrated institutional approach’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

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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