Widening participation in higher education

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.


We’re providing 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 new National Scholarship Programme, universities will offer extra financial help to students from disadvantaged backgrounds

Universities and colleges that charge the highest amounts - between £6,000 and £9,000 for full-time students – must now offer students more financial support under an access agreement, which outlines what they will do to attract and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Universities will offer bursaries and other financial support, and carry out outreach work such as partnering with schools in disadvantaged areas of the country. Universities have to set up an agreement with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

In the Autumn Statement 2013 we announced that we would provide 30,000 more student places for 2014 to 2015 before removing the cap on higher education student numbers in 2015 to 2016 to 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’. This outlines plans to increase financial support for students from low income families, through schemes such as the National Scholarship Programme. See further information on Year 1 of the National Scholarship Programme.

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