Students opt for “local” over “type” when choosing a university, according to research

The Higher Education Funding Council for England, HEFCE,  has published a new report exploring the link between economic growth and higher education provision. The interactive toolkit, which includes detailed data maps, identifies ‘cold spots’ in higher education provision and participation across England.

Commenting on Hefce’s data identifying ” HE cold spots”, Professor Anna Vignoles of Cambridge University said:

“My work suggests that how far away you live from a university does not affect your decision about whether to enrol in higher education or not. This was true even for poorer students and for different minority ethnic groups.

However, we might still be concerned about HE cold spots because our work also showed distance does significantly influence which particular institution you decide to attend.

The geographical spread of universities will therefore influence the types of university that some students are likely to enrol in.”

Dr Helen Simpson, Reader in Economics, Centre for Market and Public Organisation, University of Bristol:

“Evidence suggests the type of higher education institutions in an area can affect both local economic outcomes and students’ decisions about where to study. Research shows benefits of universities on local economic activity, in particular from universities that are more research intensive.

In terms of participation, evidence also suggests that for some students distance will matter, so the range of higher education institutions available to them locally can affect the type of institution they ultimately study at.

But neither of these arguments necessarily implies that widening the geographic spread of HE is the best policy response.”

Alison Wolf, Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management , King’s College London said:

“Pouring public money into a locality obviously creates direct local beneficiaries. But there is nothing in the research literature to suggest it automatically strengthens the wider local economy in the short or the long term. And if economic growth is what you are after, there is nothing to suggest that building yet more new universities is the most effective use for public money.”

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Professor Vignoles’ research with Steve Gibbons can be seen at:

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