For the first time, 50% of students in England are progressing to higher education, according to DfE figures published this week.
This means that the symbolic target set by Tony Blair has been reached, 20 years after it was pledged by the former Prime Minister.
The figures have shown a steady increase in participation rates over the last five years, with a 0.3% increase from 2016/17, pushing the figures over the 50% mark for the first time. However, there are still stark regional differences.
Whilst the most recent regional data is yet to be published, the previous year’s figures show that the North East had the lowest participation rate at 40%, meaning students are 20% less likely to progress to higher education than students from London. This is despite positive outcomes for the region at A Level, as local schemes widen access for students from low income backgrounds.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said that there is not sufficient evidence to show that universities are doing enough to widen participation and has urged them to take students backgrounds into account when making offers.
Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, called on the government “to prioritise policies to quicken the progress by reintroducing maintenance grants for students most in need, helping reduce drop-out rates and financial barriers to university.”