The Guardian reports that the government’s measure of higher education participation has reached its highest level since the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees in 2012, equalling the previous record of 49% since the annual estimates were first produced in 2006.
The figures show that the participation rate rose by 1.4 percentage points last year, thanks to a 10,000 rise in the number of those aged 17-30 going to university for the first time in 2015-16, including full-time and part-time learners.
The participation rate among people entering higher education immediately after leaving school also reached a record level last year, with more than 27% of all 18-year-olds going into higher education and growing at a faster rate than the increase in the population.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister, said “Young people recognise that degrees gained from UK universities can lead to rewarding and well-paid jobs – this is why more people are going to university than ever before, including record numbers of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Alistair Jarvis, the chief executive of Universities UK, said the figures showed that demand for university education remained strong, with students recognising the advantages it brought.
“There is increasing demand from UK industry and the public sector for graduate skills. Our universities are training future teachers, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs that our society and economy needs,” he said.
The data also showed that the gender gap appears to have become further entrenched, with 55% of women estimated to go to university – a rise of 2.3 percentage points in the space of a year – compared with 43% of men, a gap of 12 percentage points.
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