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Who counts as socioeconomically disadvantaged for the purposes of widening access to higher education?

Boliver, Vikki and Gorard, Stephen and Siddiqui, Nadia (2022) 'Who counts as socioeconomically disadvantaged for the purposes of widening access to higher education?', British Journal of Sociology of Education, 43 (3). pp. 349-374.


This paper evaluates a range of measures commonly used to target and measure the success of efforts to widen access to higher education. We demonstrate empirically that the area-level widening access metrics advocated by England’s Office for Students, POLAR and TUNDRA, are unfit for purpose because they yield unacceptably high rates of false positives (individuals identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged when they are not). We argue that these and other demonstrably flawed area-level and school-level metrics should be replaced by officially verified individual-level indicators of socioeconomic disadvantage which yield few false positives, most notably receipt of free school meals. Unless and until this change is made, widen access efforts will be inefficient at best and counterproductive at worst, and associated statistics will give a misleading picture of how much progress is being made on widening access.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Date accepted:24 November 2021
Date deposited:18 February 2022
Date of first online publication:19 January 2022
Date first made open access:18 February 2022

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