Proportion of young adults going to university rises to record high

The proportion of young adults in England going to university has risen to a record high.

More than half (51.9%) of English 17 to 30-year-olds participated in higher education in 2018/19, figures from the Department for Education (DfE) show.

The data has been published after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson pledged to ditch the target to send 50% of young people to university and focus more on further education (FE).

In July, Mr Williamson said there were “limits” to what could be achieved by sending more people into higher education, adding that it is “not always what the individual and nation needs”.

Former prime minister Tony Blair, in a speech in 1999, set a target of 50% of young people in England going into higher education.

The release said the “continuing relevance” of the statistic is being considered because the milestone of 50% participation has been passed.

The figures, which cover UK universities and colleges, also show a widening gender gap, with women more likely to enter higher education than men.

The overall “higher education participation rate” has increased from 2017/18 – where it rose above 50% for the first time – to nearly 52% in 2018/19.

Meanwhile, the participation rate for women was 59.1% while for their male peers it was 45.1% in 2018/19 – a gap of 14 percentage points.

In 2017/18, the gender participation gap was 12.5 percentage points.

These figures are an estimate of the likelihood of a young person taking part in higher education by the time they are 30, based on current participation rates.