Tuition fees saw drop in state-educated pupils going to university
The number of state-educated students going to university and colleges fell by four percentage points in the first year tuition fees were increased to £9,000 for all new undergraduates, new statistics show.
The drop from 66% to 62% between the 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 academic years was part of a nine percentage point drop in state school pupils carrying on into higher education since 2009/2010, Department for Education figures revealed.
The figures, released on Wednesday, relate to English institutions only, where students pay £27,000 for a three-year-degree course under controversial increases brought in by the then Coalition government in 2012/2013.
The report, Widening Participation in Higher Education: 2016, noted: "The 2013/14 cohort was the first cohort where all students were affected by the change in tuition fees in 2012/13."
The figures were released days after the Government scrapped maintenance grants for students from poor backgrounds in England, replacing the payments of around £3,500 with additional loans which will have to be paid back at the end of an undergraduate course, once graduates are earning more than £21,000.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: "We are seeing record numbers of disadvantaged young people going to university and benefiting from the real opportunities that our world- class universities can offer.
"But, with a gap still persisting depending on a student's background, there is still more work to do to build a society that works for everyone.
"Everyone in our country should be allowed to rise as far as their talents will take them, whoever they are and wherever they're from. We will not rest until every young person in our country has the chance to fulfil their promise."
Tuition fees were introduced by Tony Blair's government to come into force at the start of the 1998 academic year. This £1,000 annual payment rose to £3,000 under legislation introduced in 2004 and came into effect for students starting in 2006.
This was increased to £9,000 in 2010, a move which sparked student protests and is credited with contributing to the Lib Dems' electoral meltdown at the 2015 general election, as the party went into the coalition saying it would not increase the fees.
Wednesday's report added: "An estimated 62% of those who studied A-level and equivalent qualifications in state schools and colleges at age 17 in 2011/12 progressed to higher education by age 19 in 2013/14. For independent school and college pupils the estimated progression rate was 85%.
"The gap between these progression rates has risen from 16 percentage points for the 2010/11 cohort to 23 percentage points for the 2013/14 cohort."
Sorana Vieru, vice president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said: " This government has continued with the coalition's rhetoric that high fees and debt have not put students off going into higher education.
"Despite research showing that students from non-selective state schools being the most likely to succeed at university, their participation rates have been in decline since 2010.
"It is clear that students from non-selective state schools are most likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"For a government that talks the talk on social mobility, it needs to seriously consider the effect its market reforms are having on higher education participation.
"The cutting of grants to the poorest students and further increases in tuition fees proposed down the line are sending a message to many families that university isn't for people like them."
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, accused the Government of putting "a huge barrier in the path" of less well-off students.
She said: " It's all very well for Jo Johnson to say more needs to be done - but rather than scrapping maintenance grants this week, the Government needs to look again at the whole question of student finances.
"We need a system which is sustainable, affordable and opens up educational opportunities for the next generation, especially for young people from poorer backgrounds. Under this Tory Government, all we get is fine words but no action.
"Britain needs a highly skilled, well-educated workforce more than ever post-Brexit, yet the Government is slamming the doors in the face of thousands of young people who do not lack the talent and ability to do better, but simply do not have the financial resources."