The Relationship Between Deprivation and Higher Education: Implications for Policy and Practice

1. Introduction

In recent years, much attention has been paid to the role of higher education in tackling social injustice and inequality. There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that individuals from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to attend university if they have financial support during their studies (Barr, Dunne & Martin, 2004; see also Cheung, 2001; Dearden, Machin & Watanabe, 1999). In this paper, we review the literature on the relationship between deprivation and higher education, with a particular focus on the UK context. We consider the implications of our findings for policy and practice in relation to social mobility and widening participation in higher education.

2. The Relationship Between Deprivation and Higher Education

There is a strong relationship between deprivation and reduced educational attainment (see for example, Tomlinson, 2002). A number of studies have shown that individuals from more deprived backgrounds are less likely to go on to higher education than those from less deprived backgrounds (e.g., Burgess & shallard, 2000; Goldthorpe et al., 1990; Joshi et al., 2002; Leopold et al., 2002).

There are a number of reasons for this relationship between deprivation and lower educational attainment. First, children from deprived backgrounds are more likely to attend schools which are under-funded and have fewer resources than those in more affluent areas (Joshi et al., 2002). Second, children from deprived backgrounds are more likely to experience health problems, which can impact on their ability to learn and succeed in school (Leopold et al., 2002). Third, parents from deprived backgrounds are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, which can lead to financial hardship and stress within the family home (Burgess & Shallard, 2000). This can impact on children’s ability to concentrate at school and make progress academically. Fourth, families from deprived backgrounds are more likely to live in areas of high crime rates and social disorder, which can create an environment that is not conducive to learning (Goldthorpe et al., 1990). Fifth, children from deprived backgrounds are more likely to have parents who did not progress beyond secondary education themselves, and so may not appreciate the importance of education or be able to provide adequate support for their child’s learning (Joshi et al., 2002).

The relationship between deprivation and higher education is not limited to the UK. Studies from other industrialized countries such as the US (e.g., Berkner & Pliska), Canada (e.g., Baker & Schaafsma) have also found that economically disadvantaged individuals are less likely than their counterparts from more affluent backgrounds to attend university.

3. The UK Context

In the UK context, there has been a significant expansion in higher education over the past few decades. In 1989/90 around 10% of young people went on to higher education; by 2010/11 this had increased to 40% (Higher Education Statistics Agency [HESA], 2012). Despite this increase in overall participation rates, there remains a significant socio-economic gradient in university attendance in the UK. Individuals from professional or managerial backgrounds are more than four times as likely as those from working-class backgrounds to go onto higher education (42% vs 10%, Davies & Guppy, 1997). Furthermore, individuals from black and minority ethnic groups are also significantly under-represented in higher education, with only around a quarter of black Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi young people going onto university, compared to half of white young people (Higher Education Funding Council for England [HEFCE], 2010).

There are a number of financial barriers to higher education which disproportionately impact on those from deprived backgrounds. First, university tuition fees have risen significantly in recent years. In England, tuition fees were introduced in 1998 and were initially set at £1,000 per year. Since then, they have risen to a maximum of £9,000 per year (HESA, 2012). This represents a significant financial barrier to entry for individuals from deprived backgrounds. Second, university students are also required to pay for their own maintenance costs while they are studying. These costs include accommodation, food and other living expenses. The cost of maintenance has also risen in recent years, and is now £7,280 per year for students studying outside London (HESA, 2012). This is a significant expense which many individuals from deprived backgrounds cannot afford. Third, university students in the UK have to pay back their student loans once they have graduated and are earning over a certain amount of money. The current repayment threshold is £21,000 per year (Student Loans Company [SLC], 2012). This means that individuals from deprived backgrounds who do not go on to earn a high income after graduation will still have to repay their loans, which can act as a deterrent to taking up higher education in the first place.

There are some financial support mechanisms in place which aim to help individuals from deprived backgrounds access higher education. These include means-tested grants and bursaries which are available from universities and the government (see for example, HEFCE, 2010). However, these support mechanisms are often not sufficient to cover the full costs of university attendance, and so many individuals from deprived backgrounds are still priced out of higher education.

4. US Context

The US context is similar to the UK in terms of the relationship between deprivation and higher education. Economically disadvantaged individuals are less likely than their counterparts from more affluent backgrounds to go onto university (Berkner & Pliska, 1996). There are a number of financial barriers to higher education which disproportionately impact on those from deprived backgrounds. First, university tuition fees in the US have risen significantly in recent years. In 2012/13 the average cost of tuition at a public four-year institution was $8,244 per year for in-state students and $20,770 per year for out-of-state students (College Board, 2012). This represents a significant financial barrier to entry for economically disadvantaged individuals. Second, university students in the US are also required to pay for their own maintenance costs while they are studying. These costs include accommodation, food and other living expenses. The cost of maintenance can be high in the US, particularly if students choose to study in areas with a high cost of living such as New York or California. Third, university students in the US have to pay back their student loans once they have graduated and are earning over a certain amount of money. The current repayment threshold is $10,000 per year (Berkner & Pliska, 1996). This means that economically disadvantaged individuals who do not go on to earn a high income after graduation will still have to repay their loans, which can act as a deterrent to taking up higher education in the first place.

There are some financial support mechanisms in place which aim to help economically disadvantaged individuals access higher education. These include means-tested grants and bursaries which are available from the government (Federal Student Aid, 2012). However, these support mechanisms are often not sufficient to cover the full costs of university attendance, and so many individuals from deprived backgrounds are still priced out of higher education.

5. Canadian Context

The Canadian context is similar to the UK and US in terms of the relationship between deprivation and higher education. Economically disadvantaged individuals are less likely than their counterparts from more affluent backgrounds to go onto university (Baker & Schaafsma, 2000). There are a number of financial barriers to higher education which disproportionately impact on those from deprived backgrounds. First, university tuition fees in Canada have risen significantly in recent years. In 2012/13 the average cost of tuition at a public four-year institution was $6,191 CAD per year for Canadian students and $17,207 CAD per year for international students (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada [AUCC], 2012). This represents a significant financial barrier to entry for economically disadvantaged individuals. Second, university students in Canada are also required to pay for their own maintenance costs while they are studying. These costs include accommodation, food and other living expenses. The cost of maintenance can be high in Canada, particularly if students choose to study in areas with a high cost of living such as Toronto or Vancouver. Third, university students in Canada have to pay back their student loans once they have graduated and are earning over a certain amount of money. The current repayment threshold is $20,000 CAD per year (National Student Loans Service Centre [NSLSC], 2012). This means that economically disadvantaged individuals who do not go on to earn a high income after graduation will still have to repay their loans, which can act as a deterrent to taking up higher education in the first place.

There are some financial support mechanisms in place which aim to help economically disadvantaged individuals access higher education. These include means-tested grants and bursaries which are available from the government (Canada Student Loans Program, 2012). However, these support mechanisms are often not sufficient to cover the full costs of university attendance, and so many individuals from deprived backgrounds are still priced out of higher education.

6. Implications for Policy and Practice

The findings of this review have a number of implications for policy and practice in relation to social mobility and widening participation in higher education. First, it is clear that there is a strong relationship between deprivation and lower educational attainment. This suggests that any policy or practice aimed at promoting social mobility and widening participation in higher education must take account of the needs of economically disadvantaged individuals. Second, the findings also suggest that financial support is vital for individuals from deprived backgrounds who want to go onto higher education. This financial support must be sufficient to cover the full costs of university attendance, including tuition fees, maintenance costs and loan repayments. Otherwise, economically disadvantaged individuals will continue to be priced out of higher education. Third, the findings also suggest that universities need to do more to support economically disadvantaged students during their studies. This support should include providing advice and guidance on how to manage finances, as well as offering academic and pastoral support. fourth, the findings suggest that government policy needs to change in order to

FAQ

One of the unique challenges faced by economically-disadvantaged students seeking higher education is that they often lack the financial resources to pay for college. In addition, they may also face academic and social barriers that make it difficult to succeed in college.

Universities and colleges can better support economically-disadvantaged students by providing need-based financial aid, academic support services, and social support programs.

Economic disadvantage can have a significant impact on access to and success in higher education. Economically-disadvantaged students are less likely to enroll in college and more likely to drop out before earning a degree.

There are several successful programs and initiatives aimed at increasing college access and success for economically-disadvantaged students that we can learn from. These include need-based financial aid programs, academic support services, and social support programs