Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Widening participation - what do the data really say?

Earlier this month HEFCE published a monitoring report on the Student Opportunity Allocation and National Scholarship Programme for 2014-15, which contained some fascinating data on spend on widening participation by English universities and HEIs. Included was a table and graph showing how annual spend on WP had increased between 2010-11 and 2014-15 by over £150m: a good news story, surely.

Here’s the data that HEFCE presented: I’ve put it in a table rather than the graph on page 11 of the report, to make it easier to compare. It’s separated into categories; these have changed over time, with some categories added, and a miscellaneous category lost – they are the cells in the table with nothing in them. Note also that the early years’ don’t add up, and by more than just rounding errors. Consistent data collection on WP was in its infancy at this point, so some errors aren’t too surprising.

2010-11
2011-12
2012-13
2013-14
2014-15
Outreach work with Schools and young people
82.7
67.2
108.1
122.2
124.7
Outreach work with communities and adults
31.2
28.9
32.3
34.4
35.5
Outreach work with disabled students
4.2
5.7
6.3
Strategic partnerships with schools
8.1
Support for current students (academic and pastoral)
435.2
444.2
425.1
434.2
447.0
Support for disabled students
40.5
49.9
47.5
48.4
55.6
Support for progression into employment or pg study
17.1
19
40.9
59.2
68.9
Support for progression of disabled students
4.9
5.2
WP staffing and administration
78.8
70.5
84.1
93.4
90.8
Other
2.9
0.9
0.8
Total
690.7
681.6
743.0
802.5
842.2

So it looks like, across the board, universities are spending more on widening participation. Hooray!

But hang on a minute, what about inflation? The data HEFCE report look like they are cash sums. What is it in real terms?

I calculated inflation to match University reporting years using ONS CPI data. Although inflation isn’t much now, it was higher in this period – 4.0% in 2010-11, 3.6% the following year, for instance. When the data is presented at 2010-11 constant prices, this is what the table looks like:

2010-11
2011-12
2012-13
2013-14
2014-15
Outreach work with Schools and young people
82.7
64.9
101.6
112.7
114.6
Outreach work with communities and adults
31.2
27.9
30.4
31.7
32.6
Outreach work with disabled students


3.9
5.3
5.8
Strategic partnerships with schools




7.4
Support for current students (academic and pastoral)
435.2
428.8
399.5
400.5
410.6
Support for disabled students
40.5
48.2
44.6
44.6
51.1
Support for progression into employment or pg study
17.1
18.3
38.4
54.6
63.3
Support for progression of disabled students



4.5
4.8
WP staffing and administration
78.8
68.1
79.0
86.1
83.4
Other
2.9
0.9
0.8


Total
690.7
657.9
698.3
740.2
773.7

Now some real patterns start to emerge.

Three of the categories have seen real increases: outreach work with schools and young people; support for disabled students; and support for progression from HE into employment or postgraduate study.  Spend on outreach work with communities and adults, and WP staffing costs, have stayed pretty constant. And spend on academic and pastoral support for current students has fallen.

It seems to me that spending on support for current students – academic and pastoral – is also related to the number of students. Over the period the HE sector has grown. It’s possible to identify the total number of UK-domiciled undergraduates at English universities, so that spend per student can be calculated.

Support for current students
2010-11
2011-12
2012-13
2013-14
2014-15
Spend in 2010-11 prices (£m)
£435.2m
£428.8m
£399.5m
£400.5m
£410.6m
UK domiciled students
873,910
919,990
915,710
928,365
929,200
Spend per student, 2010-11 prices (£)
£498
£483
£464
£468
£481

The data shows that per student, spend on academic and pastoral support has reduced from £498 in 2010-11 to £481 in 2014-15.

So in conclusion, we see that rather than spend increasing in all categories, there’s actually been a focus on outreach with schools, support for students with disabilities and with post-HE progression. These are things which make a big difference to life-chances, and that’s what it’s all about.


Does this mean that HEFCE wasn’t being accurate?  I think that would be going too far, but it’s always worth looking at data carefully to see what it really means, and what it really says. If spend per student on actual support is really declining, not increasing, isn’t that worth knowing? 

No comments:

Post a comment