Higher education participation

The issue

Anyone with the ability who wants to go to university should have the chance to do so, whatever their economic or social background. The government wants to get more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education – in particular into the country’s most selective universities.


Government provides financial support to help young people from low income families go to university so that:

  • students from families earning £25,000 or less get a full grant to help with living costs
  • under our National Scholarship Programme, universities and colleges will offer extra financial help to eligible students from disadvantaged backgrounds (this programme runs for 3 academic years from 2012 to 2013, 2013 to 2014 and 2014 to 2015)

Any university or college that wants to charge the highest amounts for tuition - between £6,000 and £9,000 for full-time students – must have an access agreement approved by the independent Director of Fair Access. This outlines what they will do to attract and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Institutions with access agreements will offer bursaries and other financial support, and carry out outreach work such as partnering with schools in disadvantaged areas of the country.

We’re providing £25 million in 2014 to 2016 to stimulate the development of a national network of higher education institution led ‘collaborative outreach partnerships’. Each partnership will include a single point of contact for schools, further education colleges and employers who want to access outreach opportunities.

In the Autumn Statement 2013 we announced that we would provide 30,000 more student places for 2014 to 2015. We’re also removing the cap on higher education student numbers in 2015 to 2016. This will ensure that an estimated 60,000 more young people can go to university every year.


In May 2010 we published the coalition agreement, which stated our aim to “attract a higher proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds” into higher education.

In October 2010 an independent review of the higher education funding system, ‘Higher Education funding and student finance in England’, recommended increasing access to the UK’s top institutions for students from low income backgrounds.

The review recommended that any university that charges higher tuition fees should increase financial support for students from low income families.

In June 2011 we carried out a consultation, ‘Higher Education: students at the heart of the system’, on whether to implement the reforms of the review, ‘Higher Education funding and student finance in England’.

You can read the outcome of the consultation in the ‘Government response: students at the heart of the system’. It outlined plans to increase financial support for students from low income families, through schemes such as the National Scholarship Programme, which runs for 3 years to 2014 to 2015.

In March 2014 we published a ‘National strategy for access and student success’, developed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). The strategy looks at how funding for widening access from the government, HEFCE, universities and further education colleges might be used more effectively through their access agreements. The main action proposed in the strategy is to develop the national network of collaborative outreach partnerships.