Concern about equal access to higher education for students from different backgrounds has been a prominent feature of the debate about education policy in recent years, both in the UK and abroad. Eligibility for free school meals (FSMs) is an indicator of social disadvantage that is often used in this country. Participation in higher education among English pupils eligible for FSMs currently stands at only 14%, less than half the rate for pupils from better-off backgrounds. On some measures, the socioeconomic gap in higher-education participation worsened in England over the 1980s and 1990s despite the efforts of successive governments.
This article examines the rationale for and impact of the most recent reforms to higher education funding. It then shows why government intervention would prove more effective if it were targeted earlier in children’s lives.
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