The report –  2020 End of Cycle report: What happened to the COVID cohort? – calls on higher tariff providers to admit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds, or risk equality gaps persisting for another 332 years.

According to the new UCAS figures, each higher tariff provider accepted an average of 75 students from disadvantaged backgrounds in England this year. The most advantaged students are still 12 times more likely to study at these providers.

Dr Omar Khan, Director of TASO said:

“After a very challenging year for schools, students, and universities, I am pleased that efforts to widen participation are translating into more disadvantaged students entering higher education in England.

However, as this UCAS report highlights, there are headwinds coming and stronger action is required to keep the needle moving in the right direction. The impact of COVID-19 will continue to reverberate over the year ahead. We need to put in place measures now to support the most disadvantaged students in the 2021 cohort, who are more likely to have experienced significant educational disruption due to the pandemic.

“Beyond this immediate challenge, the UK’s 18-year-old population is forecast to dramatically increase over the coming decade, which will require expansion across the sector, and make spots in the most selective institutions more competitive than ever.

TASO will work with the sector, including higher tariff providers, to ensure that evidence-informed action is taken to prevent progress from stalling over the coming years.

The UCAS report also suggests that an annual increase of 70 disadvantaged students at each higher tariff provider in England could close their collective equality gap in admissions by 2030.

UCAS projects there will be an additional 90,000 applicants to higher education by 2025. This could result in disadvantaged students, who are typically lower attaining, being squeezed out of the system.

The UCAS report uses the ‘Multiple Equality Measure’ (MEM) to measure disadvantage. The MEM combines the effects of many measures used in the analysis of equality in higher education into a single value.

Other highlights from the UCAS 2020 End of Cycle report show:

  • Record proportions of UK 18-year olds applied (41.5%) and were accepted (37%) into university or college, despite widespread concern that demand for higher education would fall due to the pandemic.
  • A narrowing of the UCAS Multiple Equality Measure (MEM) equality gap, with the most advantaged English school pupils (group five) 4.23 times more likely to enter higher education than the most disadvantaged (group one), compared to 4.40 times in 2019. The gap since 2010 has now narrowed by 26%.
  • Record numbers of acceptances from the lowest participation areas (using the POLAR measurement) and a record entry rate for those receiving free school meals (FSM).
  • An improving equality picture for higher tariff universities overall, and, though still stark, the MEM entry rate ratio for English 18-year-old applicants.

For more details, download the full UCAS report: 2020 End of Cycle report: What happened to the COVID cohort?