10 August 2012

million+ comment on BIS report on widening participation in higher education

The university think-tank million+ has welcomed the publication today (10 August) of a new assessment of widening participation in higher education published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) but the think-tank has criticised the focus on progression to higher education by younger students. The assessment replaces more detailed measures used by the previous Government.

Professor Patrick McGhee, Chair of the university think-tank million+ and Vice-Chancellor of the University of East London said ‘ The assessment is now based on free school meals and focuses on outcomes for younger students. This under-estimates the achievements of schools, colleges and universities in supporting students from less advantaged backgrounds to progress to higher education. One in three undergraduates enter university for the first time when they are over 21 and the new measures also fail to capture their achievements and those of the modern universities that educate them.

However, it is clear from this data that studying for a degree is the best route into a professional career. As a result of their university studies, over 66% of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds entered higher level occupations within 6 months of graduation in 2010-11 . Many people take longer to find the employment that they want but these figures confirm that studying for a degree, whatever your age, will greatly improve your chances of getting a more rewarding job in the future. Bearing in mind the student profile of institutions, it is undoubtedly modern universities which are offering high-quality and life-changing opportunities to students from less advantaged backgrounds’.


  1. In 2011 BIS changed the measures to assess progression and widening participation in higher education with a focus of free school meals (FSM) and younger students. FSM is not claimed by all families who are eligible and the measure does not capture the progression to higher education of older students.
  2. The BIS data confirms a significant move into higher level occupations by graduates who were from lower socio-economic backgrounds when they entered university as students. These students are recruited in far greater numbers by modern universities. The BIS analysis confirms the outcomes of research into graduate occupation and student background published by million+ in Social Mobility: Universities Changing Lives which can be found here.
  3. The BIS report can be found here.