Risk 5: Limited choice of course type and delivery mode

Students may not have equal opportunity to access a sufficiently wide variety of higher education course types.


Regional differences in the availability of types of higher education courses (such as undergraduate, degree apprenticeship, HNC) and the mode of course delivery (such as part-time, distance or hybrid) that are offered may result in some groups of students not being able to attend a course of their choice.

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

  • Differences in the availability of course type and delivery may result in more restricted choice for students with certain characteristics, and subsequently to lower progression to higher education rates.
  • This may subsequently impact on regional disparities in course choice, qualifications, and the labour market.
  • On course, it may also contribute to lower continuation rates and lower course attainment for these students, if they are not studying on a course type and/or delivery style that is suited to their situation.

Students who are:

  • prisoners
  • parents
  • care experienced
  • LGBT
  • commuter students
  • young carers
  • Asian
  • mature
  • from a low household income
  • disabled.

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.

For example, for each of the student characteristics noted above, students who live in rural areas are more likely to experience this risk than students who have the same personal characteristic, but who live in an urban area.

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 application rates
  • homogeneity in course type and/or delivery option within a provider
  • low on-course attainment rates (which may differ for students on different course-delivery modes)
  • low continuation rates (which may differ for students on different course-delivery modes).

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 and the range of course types/delivery mode available.

We therefore encourage providers to examine their own data and establish if 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)

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

Ball, S.J., D. Reay, and M. David (2002) ‘‘Ethnic Choosing’: Minority Ethnic Students, Social Class and Higher Education Choice.’ Race Ethnicity and Education 5 (4): 333–357. doi:10.1080/1361332022000030879.  [Taylor & Francis Online], [Google Scholar];

Bland, B (2015) ‘Focus on access and retention. Risks for students who are estranged or disowned by their family’. Access_and_Retention.Final.pdf (thestandalonepledge.org.uk)

C McCabe, K Keast & M. S Kaya (2022) ‘Barriers and facilitators to university access in disadvantaged UK adolescents by ethnicity: a qualitative study, Journal of Further and Higher Education’, 46:10, 1434-1446, DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2022.2086037

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

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

Learning and Work Institute, ‘Rates of adult participation in learning’.

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

Lyonette, C., Atfield, G., Behl, H., Gambin, L. (2015) ‘Tracking student mothers’ higher education participation and early career outcomes over time: initial choices and aspirations, HE experiences and career destinations. Final report.’ Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick, Coventry.

Noden, P., M. Shiner, and T. Modood. 2014. ‘Black and Minority Ethnic Access to Higher Education’. London: LSE. (Accessed 7 June 2022).  

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

Office for Students (2023) ‘A new approach to fair access, participation and success’. (Accessed 05/12/2023)

Shiner, M., and T. Modood. (2002) ‘Help or Hindrance? Higher Education and the Route to Ethnic Equality.’ British Journal of Sociology of Education 23 (2): 209–232.doi:10.1080/01425690220137729.  [Taylor & Francis Online] [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar];

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

UCAS ‘Next Steps: What is the experience of LGBT+ Students in Education?’ (Accessed 12/12/2023)

UCAS ‘Next Steps: What is the experience of students from a care background in education?’ (Accessed 05/12/2023)

White, P.M., Lee, D.M. (2020) ‘Geographic Inequalities and Access to Higher Education: Is the Proximity to Higher Education Institution Associated with the Probability of Attendance in England?’. Res High Educ 61, 825–848 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-019-09563-x


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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