Numbers of local people studying in higher education (HE) institutions in the UK had been increasing gradually but then dipped when higher tuition fees were introduced (see chart below). In academic year 2017/18, there were 6,845 people from the Wakefield district engaged in higher education across the UK. The total includes more women than men – the ratio is around 6:4. Around 70% of the district’s higher education students are aged under 25 years old, and 20% are aged 30 or over.
There are no official annual HE participation rates published for people of all ages, but it is possible to calculate proxy measures. Accordingly, in 2016/17, 3.6% of people from Wakefield were enrolled in Higher Education somewhere in the UK (% calculated using people aged 18-64). Although the national (UK) participation rate is higher, at 4.7%, the gap between Wakefield and the UK rate has been narrowing gradually over the past 12 years.
Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are much less likely to enter Higher Education than other pupils, with only 13% of Wakefield's 15 year olds eligible for free school meals (FSM) entering HE by aged 19, compared to 26% across England as a whole (2017/18). There had been some improvement over the past decade (see graph below), but the gap between those eligible for free school meals, and those not, has widened again over the past couple of years. Across England as a whole the gap has remained constant.
Source: Department for Education
The small-area geography of higher education participation among school leavers can be visualized by the POLAR4 4 dataset from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The POLAR4 has been calculated using administrative data for five cohorts of young people. The five cohorts are those who were aged 15 at the start of the school years that began from autumn 2006 to autumn 2011, and hence who could have entered HE between the academic years 2009-10 and 2013-14 aged 18 or between 2010-11 and 2014-15 aged 19. The Sandal area of Wakefield has the highest participation rate, at 83%, followed by the Walton, Notton and Woolley area (58%). The lowest participation rates are in Knottingley (13%), Airedale and Ferry Fryston (13%), Kinsley and Fitzwilliam (15%) Eastmoor (16%) Featherstone (16%) and Lupset (16%).
Percentage of people aged 18/19 entering HE between 2009/10 and 2014/15, by MSOA.
For young people aged 18, entry into higher education through UCAS has been increasing. The proportion from Morley and Outwood constituency has always been a little higher than the England average, and the proportions from the other local constituencies have grown. Averaging across the four constituencies, 31% of 18 year olds entered HE through UCAS in 2018, compared to 34% across England as a whole.