House of Commons Library

Higher education and social class

Published Friday, June 18, 2010

The evidence, as far as it goes, suggests that over the latter half of the 20th century there was little change in the proportion of university students from lower social classes. Their participation in higher education increased, but so did participation from all social classes and the gap that was apparent in the middle of the last century was broadly maintained to the end. Even the rapid expansion of higher education in the early 1990s had little impact on this. There now exists a wide range of indicators of disadvantage and looking across these over the past five years or so there is some evidence that this gap has started to close. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds have increased their participation in higher education at a faster absolute rate than those from more advantaged backgrounds. However, the gaps in participation remain very large and the rate of change is slow.

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The evidence, as far as it goes, suggests that over the latter half of the 20th century there was little change in the proportion of university students from lower social classes. Their participation in higher education increased, but so did participation from all social classes and the gap that was apparent in the middle of the last century was broadly maintained to the end. Even the rapid expansion of higher education in the early 1990s had little impact on this. There now exists a wide range of indicators of disadvantage and looking across these over the past five years or so there is some evidence that this gap has started to close. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds have increased their participation in higher education at a faster absolute rate than those from more advantaged backgrounds. However, the gaps in participation remain very large and the rate of change is slow.

Commons Briefing papers SN00620

Author: Paul Bolton

Topics: Higher education, Students

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