Understanding successful progression to higher education for disadvantaged and under-represented groups icon

Understanding successful progression to higher education for disadvantaged and under-represented groups

The expansion of higher education (HE) has become a notable feature of the education landscape in England in recent years. The number of young people entering HE has steadily increased since the early 1990s; however, the likelihood of participation continues to vary significantly by gender, age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Prior attainment has been identified as a key determinant of whether or not an individual will progress into HE but this does not entirely explain all the differences that exist by key groups. CFE was commissioned to undertake qualitative research to explore the reasons for these differences amongst those who had achieved an appropriate level of attainment to progress to HE. The aim was to identify gaps in current understanding of the reasons why some young people with the ability do not progress to HE; establish the key points in a young person’s life when their learning and career aspirations are shaped and the factors that influence this process; and explore the barriers and enablers to progression. Working closely with the University of Bristol, a sample of young people and parents was selected from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. In-depth interviews were conducted with a range of young people – both HE and non-HE participants; parents were consulted through a series of focus group. The primary research was informed by an in-depth literature review of existing evidence to explain differential participation rates and secondary analysis of data from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) (now known as Next Steps) and HESA.

The final report can be found here:


Lindsey Bowes image

Key project contact

Lindsey Bowes

Lindsey joined CFE Research in 2008 and led the team responsible for HE policy research before becoming research director in 2014. She has particular expertise in widening participation, student financial aid and student decision making, although in her current role she also oversees projects in CFE’s other work strands, the economy and wellbeing.

Over the past 20 years Lindsey has contributed to research that has informed policy and practice at the national level, including the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education and the National Strategy for Access and Students.