Academic Year 2019/20

Participation measures in higher education

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Introducing the Higher Education Initial Participation (HEIP) measure

This statistical publication presents the latest Higher Education Initial Participation (HEIP) measure. The HEIP has been published by DfE (and former Departments) since 2004, and the measure is the sum of the age specific participation rates for the 17 to 30 year-old population in England in each academic year. It can be thought of as a projection of the likelihood of a 17-year-old today participating in higher education by age 30 if the latest year's entry rates persisted in the future.

Future development of the participation measure

In last year’s release, DfE asked users for feedback on the future of the series.

Feedback was invited on whether the HEIP measure remained relevant and was still necessary to users. This included opportunity for comment on how users would be impacted if methodological changes were made to the series. 

The decision has been taken to retain a higher education participation statistical series, but subsequent headline measures will be developed from tracking cohorts of school pupils rather than relying on population estimates. This is therefore the last release which uses methodology based on population estimates. 

The change to cohort measures will: 

  • Be more accurate. The new method will measure participation by a clearly defined school cohort, rather than current population estimates that are subject to inward and outward migration flows.
  • Be more intuitive to users. Cohort tracking is easier to explain than the existing projection methodology.

Cohort measures also benefit from having a reliable estimate of the population across a wide range of personal characteristics and geographic breakdowns such as those published in Widening participation in higher education, 2019/20. This was discussed in “Supplementary analysis: Progression to higher education by age - a cohort measure” which was published last year.

As shown in the supplementary analysis (page 6), cohort measures can be used to estimate participation by age 30 based on ‘current’ participation levels. Projection estimates can be derived by considering the sum of changes in entry rates by age between the two latest academic years. This is similar to the measures published at present. 

DfE continues to welcome feedback on this change in methodology, and any other element of this release, at he.statistics@education.gov.uk.


Headline facts and figures - 2019/20

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About this release

Introducing the Higher Education Initial Participation (HEIP) measure

This statistical publication presents the latest Higher Education Initial Participation (HEIP) measure. The HEIP has been published by DfE (and former Departments) since 2004, and the measure is the sum of the age specific participation rates for the 17 to 30 year-old population in England in each academic year. It can be thought of as a projection of the likelihood of a 17-year-old today participating in higher education by age 30 if the latest year's entry rates persisted in the future.

The HEIP was formerly known as the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate (HEIPR).  The measure was renamed last year following feedback from users about the validity of it being described as a rate.  Further information is available in this communication from the Office for Statistics Regulation: 

Ed Humpherson to Neil McIvor, DfE regarding the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate (HEIPR) – Office for Statistics Regulation (statisticsauthority.gov.uk)

Coverage

The HEIP measure includes 17 to 30 year-old English domiciled first-time participants in higher education (Levels 4 and above) at UK higher education providers (HEPs), and at English, Welsh and Scottish Further Education Providers (FEPs).

The coverage of the HEIP measure was boosted in last year's publication by the inclusion of initial participants registered at additional providers of higher education who have been returning data to the Higher Education Statistics Agency's (HESA) Student Alternative record. This impacts the HEIP measure from 2014/15 onwards, and the Postgraduate Initial Participation (PGIP) measure from 2017/18 onwards. 

The impact of the change in coverage is shown in the headline chart and table of the publication. In the remainder of the publication, figures are presented with a break in the series to make clear that figures prior to 2014/15 are on a different basis.

Limitations with the HEIP methodology 

The HEIP National Statistic has been published by DfE (and former Departments) since 2004, and the measure is an estimate of the actual entry rate in the current year of people who had not previously entered higher education between the ages 17 and 30. For each age from 17 to 30, the initial participation rate is calculated as the fraction of the academic year population that are initial entrants. These rates are added to create the total HEIP measure. It is not a measure of participation by particular entry cohorts. 

When there is steady growth in entry rates for younger age groups (as has been observed over many years for English 18 year-olds), the HEIP method of summing current participation rates will show a higher participation rate than the participation rate for a particular entry cohort. For example, today’s 30 year-olds, will have had a lower initial participation rate when they were aged 18 compared to today’s 18 year-olds. 

A rough estimate of rates for particular entry cohorts can be constructed by summing the initial entry rates across academic years. For example, the 17 year-old entry rate in 2006/07, would be added to the 18 year old rate in 2007/08, and to the 19 year-old rate in 2008/09, and so on. 

Future development of the participation measure

In last year’s release, DfE asked users for feedback on the future of the series.

Feedback was invited on whether the HEIP measure remained relevant and was still necessary to users. This included opportunity for comment on how users would be impacted if methodological changes were made to the series. 

The decision has been taken to retain a higher education participation statistical series, but subsequent headline measures will be developed from tracking cohorts of school pupils rather than relying on population estimates. This is therefore the last release which uses methodology based on population estimates. 

The change to cohort measures will: 

  • Be more accurate. The new method will measure participation by a clearly defined school cohort, rather than current population estimates that are subject to inward and outward migration flows.
  • Be more intuitive to users. Cohort tracking is easier to explain than the existing projection methodology.

Cohort measures also benefit from having a reliable estimate of the population across a wide range of personal characteristics and geographic breakdowns such as those published in Widening participation in higher education, 2019/20. This was discussed in “Supplementary analysis: Progression to higher education by age - a cohort measure” which was published last year.

As shown in the supplementary analysis (page 6), cohort measures can be used to estimate participation by age 30 based on ‘current’ participation levels. Projection estimates can be derived by considering the sum of changes in entry rates by age between the two latest academic years. This is similar to the measures published at present. 

DfE continues to welcome feedback on this change in methodology, and any other element of this release, at he.statistics@education.gov.uk.

Historic data:

2006/07 was the first year for which data are available using the HEIP methodology throughout this release. Historic figures from 1999/00 have been included for reference in a supplementary downloadable file named "Historic Initial Participation data 1999 to 2006 (old methodology)”. These figures are not comparable to those throughout this publication. Details of the methodological changes were reported in

[ARCHIVED CONTENT] DIUS: Participation Rates in Higher Education: Academic Years 1999/2000-2007/08 (Provisional) (nationalarchives.gov.uk)

Rounding

Initial participant counts have been rounded to the nearest five in line with the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) rounding policy . Calculated percentages have been rounded to one decimal place to inform comparisons over time. Rounding may result in slight inconsistencies between totals and sums of their constituent parts.

Revisions

Revisions in recent years

Due to ongoing methodological improvements in the estimation of the number of initial participants in Higher Education and updates to the underpinning data, the complete time series of participation is recalculated every year, and can result in small changes to the initial participant counts that feed into the age-specific rates.

More notably last year, the coverage of the HEIP measure was boosted by the inclusion of initial participants registered at additional providers of higher education who have been returning data to the Higher Education Statistics Agency's (HESA) Student Alternative record. This impacts the HEIP measure from 2014/15 onwards, and the Postgraduate Initial Participation (PGIP) measure from 2017/18 onwards.  The impact of the change in coverage is shown in the headline chart and table of the publication. In the remainder of the publication figures are presented with a break in the series to make clear that figures prior to 2014/15 are on a different basis.

Revisions in future publications

Figures for 2019/20 are considered to be provisional due to the fact that the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) keep their collections open for between 6 and 15 months following the closure of the corresponding live data collection, so revisions to the initial participant counts are possible, but likely to be relatively minor. Population estimates can also be revised which can lead to updates to the measure.

As revisions and updates to the source data from HESA, the Office for Students (OfS), the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Welsh Government; and the population estimates and projections from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Government Actuary's Department are made available at different times during the year, any revisions to the provisional figures for 2019/20 will be included in any future publications. 

Age

Initial participation by age

  • The HEIP measure is the sum of the initial entry percentages in each of the age groups from 17 to 30 in a given academic year.
  • Summing to 42.2%, 18 and 19 year-olds make the largest contribution to the HEIP measure for 17 to 30 year-olds (of 53.4%).
  • The 18 year-old contribution to the HEIP measure increased by 1.2 percentage points to 30.6% in 2019/20, explained by an increase in the absolute number of initial entrants by 4,275 to 189,540, as well as a decrease in the 18-year old population by 10,640.

Sex

Initial participation by sex

  • The HEIP measure for females aged 17 to 30 in 2019/20 was 60.8%, and 46.3% for males; this represents a difference in initial participation between males and females of 14.5 percentage points.
  • Compared to 2018/19, the HEIP measure in 2019/20 grew by 1.7 percentage points for females and 1.2 percentage points for males.
  • The female-male gap in participation has widened from 14.0 percentage points in 2018/19 to 14.5 percentage points in 2019/20.

Initial participation by age and sex

  • The gap in the HEIP measure for 17 to 30 year-olds was shown above to be 14.5 percentage points between males and females.
  • The gap in participation between men and women increases with age, and is demonstrated in the following tables showing female and male participation at different ages.
  • The HEIP measure for females aged 17 to 20 (HEIP20) in 2019/20 was 51.6%, and 40.1% for males; a difference in initial participation between males and females of 11.5 percentage points.
  • The HEIP measure for females aged 17 to 60 (HEIP60) in 2019/20 was 68.5%, and 50.8% for males; a difference in initial participation between males and females of 17.7 percentage points.
  • It should be noted that the HEIP60 cannot be calculated to the same degree of accuracy as HEIP for under-30s as data matching to identify previous HE participation cannot be extended for the number of years that would be necessary.

Mode

Initial participation by mode of study

  • The HEIP measure for 17 to 30 year-olds entering higher education in 2019/20 disaggregates to 49.3% entering to do full-time study, and 4.0% to do part-time study.
  • Comparing the most recent estimates in 2018/19 and 2019/20, the HEIP measure grew by 1.4 percentage points for full-time study, and stayed the same for part-time study.
  • The contribution of part-time students to the HEIP measure was about 6% in 2006/07 to 2011/12, following which it began to decrease in 2012/13.
  • Even with additional providers included in the series since 2014/15, the part-time contribution has not increased above 4.0 percentage points.

Initial participation by age and mode of study

  • A limitation with measuring participation up to age 30 is that it fails to show the extent of the decline that has been experienced in initial participation in part-time study over the series.
  • Part-time entrants contributed 13.9 percentage points to the HEIP measure for 17 to 60 year-olds (HEIP60) of 51.6% in 2006/07. They contributed just 6.4 percentage points of the HEIP60 of 59.5% in 2019/20, even with additional providers included. 
  • In comparison, part-time entrants contributed 6.1 percentage points to the HEIP measure for 17 to 30 year-olds of 41.7% in 2006/07, and 4.0 percentage points of the 53.3% in 2019/20, a decline of 2.1 percentage points.
  • It should be noted that HEIP60 cannot be calculated to the same degree of accuracy as HEIP for under-30s as data matching to identify previous HE participation cannot be extended for the number of years that would be necessary.

Qualification aim

Initial participation by qualification aim

  • Experimental statistics tables have been included to provide additional context around the HEIP measure; this section examines initial entry to higher education by qualification aim. Apprenticeships at level 4 and above are included in the HEIP measure but are reported as the component qualifications which make up the overarching Apprenticeship framework or standard.
  • The majority of initial participants in higher education aged 17 to 30 were studying towards a first degree.
  • The HEIP measure in 2019/20 for first degrees was 48.4%, and the remaining 4.9% consisted of foundation degrees, HNC/HNDs, postgraduate taught, postgraduate research, and other undergraduate qualifications.
  • Comparing to 2018/19, the HEIP measure in 2019/20 grew by 1.8 percentage points for first degrees, and fell by 0.4 percentage points across the qualification aims other than first degrees.

Provider type

Initial participation by provider type

  • Experimental statistics tables have been included to provide additional context around the HEIP measure; this section examines initial entry to higher education by provider type.
  • Provider-type has been defined based on the data collection the initial entrants to higher education are recorded in. Entrants reported to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) have been categorised as registering with Higher Education Providers (HEPs), and entrants reported to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) have been categorised as registering with Further Education Providers (FEPs).
  • The majority of initial participants to higher education are registered to study at HEPs. The HEIP measure in 2019/20 was 50.2% for HEPs, and 3.2% for FEPs.
  • Comparing to 2018/19, the HEIP estimate in 2019/20 grew by 1.8 percentage points for HEPs, and fell by 0.3 percentage points for FEPs.
  • The decrease in the HEIP contribution of FEPs in 2018/19 is partly due to the re-categorisation of some FEPs as HEPs after they obtained university title.

Postgraduate study

Postgraduate participation

  • The Postgraduate Initial Participation (PGIP) measure is equivalent to HEIP but measures initial participation for postgraduate courses only.
  • The PGIP for 17 to 30 year-olds in 2019/20 was 12.2%, an increase of 0.4 percentage points from 11.8% in 2018/19.
  • The PGIP measure increased by the inclusion of initial participants registered at additional providers of higher education who have been returning data to the Higher Education Statistic Agency's (HESA) Student Alternative record. This impacts the measure from 2017/18 onwards.
  • The inclusion of students at these additional providers has boosted the 2019/20 PGIP measure for 17 to 30 year-olds by 0.9 percentage points, from 11.3% to 12.2%.
  • Initial participation in postgraduate study increased in 2016/17 following the introduction of new student support arrangements for postgraduate study.

Postgraduate participation by sex

  • The PGIP measure for females aged 17 to 30 in 2019/20 was 15.6%, and 9.0% for males; this represents a difference in initial participation between males and females of 6.6 percentage points.
  • Comparing to 2018/19, the PGIP measure in 2019/20 grew by 0.7 percentage points for females, and grew by 0.1 percentage points for males.
  • The female-male gap in participation at postgraduate level has widened from 6.0 percentage points in 2018/19 to 6.6 percentage points in 2019/20.

Postgraduate participation by mode of study

  • The PGIP measure for 17 to 30 year-olds entering higher education in 2019/20 disaggregates to 9.3% entering to do full-time study, and 2.9% to do part-time study.
  • Comparing the most recent estimates in 2018/19 and 2019/20, the PGIP measure grew by 0.3 percentage points for full-time study, and grew by 0.1 percentage points for part-time study.

Other data sources

Other data sources

There are various other publications that provide estimated participation rates and show how these contribute to the skill levels of the working population in England. 

UCAS Entry Rates 

Although UCAS entry rates for 18-year-olds are higher than the equivalent initial participation rates reported in this publication, the percentage point growth is comparable to the HEIP measure for that age. The size of the estimates is different as UCAS measure the acceptance of a place, not physical participation on a course for at least 6 months, and there are other differences in coverage, with UCAS covering full-time undergraduate acceptances only. 

The UCAS End of Cycle 2020 Report shows that the entry rate to full-time higher education for English 18-year-olds rose from 33.7% in 2018/19 to 35.0% in 2019/20. The comparable full-time initial entry rate for 18-year-olds calculated as part of the HEIP measure was 29.4% in 2018/19 and 30.6% in 2019/20, a 1.2 percentage points increase.

The report also shows that in 2020/21 the UCAS entry rate to full-time higher education by 18-year-olds has increased further, to 37.9%, the highest rate ever recorded. 

DfE’s Participation in education, training and employment: 2020

The Department for Education publishes national participation figures for education, training and employment (and NEET) for 16 to 18 year-olds.  The latest publication refers to the position at the end of 2020 and is available at National statistics overview: Participation in education, training and employment: 2020 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

This publication shows that the proportion of 18-year olds in full-time education was 53.9% at the end of 2020, up 2.5 percentage points from the end of 2019.  About two thirds of those in full-time education were studying higher education (level 4 and above).

OECD Estimates of Initial Entry to Tertiary-Level Education 

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publishes first time entry rates to tertiary education on an internationally comparable basis in their annual publication Education at a Glance (EAG). The reported UK participation rate in EAG 2021 was 57% and referred to the academic year 2018/19. The average across OECD-reporting countries was 51%. This rate differs to the HEIP for 17 to 30 years-olds because:

  • It identifies initial entrants based on prior qualifications, whereas HEIP discounts students who have participated for a minimum of 6 months.
  • It provides the entry rate for students domiciled in all UK administrations, rather than just England.
  • It only includes students aged under 25 years old, while the headline HEIP estimate refers to 17 to 30 year olds.

Office for Students Young Participation Rates 

Maps of young HE participation rates for local areas are published by the Office for Students at https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/polar-participation-of-local-areas/

Percentage of the population qualified to higher education level

The HEIP measure is a useful indicator of the percentage of the population that might qualify at higher education level.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes statistics from the Annual Population Survey (APS) on the percentage of the population qualified to National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) levels 4 or above, which is equivalent to higher education level.

The percentage of the 25 to 29 population of England qualified to NVQ level 4 or above by calendar year is shown in the chart and table below.

The percentage of the population aged 25 to 29 qualified at level 4 or above is lower than the estimates provided by the HEIP measure; this is partly due to young people participating in higher education for six months but not completing their studies and obtaining a higher education qualification.

Alternative disaggregations of the APS are available at Dataset Selection - Query - Nomis - Official Labour Market Statistics (nomisweb.co.uk).

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Methodology

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National statistics

The United Kingdom Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Designation signifying their compliance with the authority's Code of Practice for Statistics which broadly means these statistics are:

  • managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

Once designated as National Statistics it's a statutory requirement for statistics to follow and comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics to be observed.

Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

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If you have a specific enquiry about Participation measures in higher education statistics and data:

HE Participation and Provider Statistics Team

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