Mature female student with books in library

Access to higher education: 'it's not just for 18-year-olds'

The Government is on course to miss targets to open up access to higher education, according to new research. And "they cannot afford to focus their efforts solely on 18 year-olds."

The Government has ambitious targets for widening participation in by 2020. It aims to double the number of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds going into Higher Education.

But research by the Social Market Foundation think tank says it's on course to miss those targets, finding significant differences between institutions’ intake of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The research has been published in the Widening Participation report and is supported by The Open University and the University Alliance.

Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, Peter Horrocks, said: “The government’s ambition to encourage more disadvantaged students into higher education is to be welcomed, however, current efforts fail to take into account the vital role part-time and lifelong study has to play in driving social mobility.

As this report makes clear, if ministers are serious about encouraging these groups of our society into studying at a higher level, they cannot afford to focus their efforts solely on 18 year-olds, as has previously been the case.

"More than a third of such students entering the English university system last year were mature. These individuals make a huge contribution to our society and economy, and it is in the national interest to make sure this is recognised in any future policy developments.”

The report found that there has been some progress towards these targets, but if current trends continue, it won’t be enough to meet them.

It also found significant differences between institutions, with many taking fewer pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds than six years ago and others only showing very small increases.

The issues raised in the report were the subject of a special round-table event held in central London today, attended by the Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson.

A full breakdown of the research findings can be found in the report.