PublicationsTopic index of systematic reviewsKnowledge pagesPost-16 education
Participation in post-compulsory education
This page contains the findings of systematic reviews undertaken by review groups linked to the EPPI Centre

High-income countries
Low-and middle income countries

High-income countries

Factors of importance in widening adult participation in education are:[1]

  • Sufficient, suitable resources including quality support services.
  • Effective use of resources and good management of interventions.
  • Suitable ways to measure learning gains.
  • Listening to learners, responding to feedback, encouraging realistic expectations about what learning programmes offer.
  • Steps that break down barriers to learning.
  • Flexible and tailored delivery and support.
  • Networking and partnership, including the use of intermediary organisations.

A review into financial factors found the following:[2]

  • National surveys found that direct costs were a barrier for about 20% of the adult population, and a critical barrier for under 10%.  The proportions affected are higher in sub-groups with lower incomes.
  • Indirect study costs do not appear to have influenced the choice of college or course.  For a minority, transport and childcare costs were a cause of hardship.
  • The Education Maintenance Allowance scheme has increased participation of young people in full-time education.
  • There is no secure direct evidence on links between individual or family income and young people’s participation in post-16 education and training. There is little more explicit evidence of correlation between the income of adults and participation in formal learning.
  • One study in the aspirations review[4] found that financial assistance was particularly valuable for people in ethnic minority groups who had low expectations.

The most promising strategies appear to be:[1]

  • A substantial degree of flexibility in learning provision and support services, tailored to learners' needs.
  • Programmes tailored to the needs of employees and the workplace, including occupationally specific learning.

A review of post-compulsory participation for minority ethnic groups reported on ten US intervention studies but stated that they were of limited relevance in the UK context: [3]

  •  In a post-16 school setting, consistent high quality evidence of positive effects was found for a monetary incentives intervention in helping high achieving, ethnically diverse students to maintain their academic good standing. The strategy was found to be particularly effective in a subgroup analysis of Asian students.
  • In a post-16 school setting consistent medium quality evidence of positive effects was found for a sustained dropout prevention intervention (‘check and connect’ procedure) on predominantly African-American students with learning or emotional/behavioural disabilities that incorporated monitoring and school engagement strategies.
  • In post-16 higher education (HE) settings, consistent high quality evidence was found for positive effects of a faculty/student mentoring strategy in improving academic performance and retention.

An aspirations survey of ethnic minority groups[4] found that the influence of family and individual aspirations stand out as being the major determinants: 

  • Sixteen medium to high WoE studies found that a high parental value of education, strong parental support for post-16 participation, positive family influence and being in a higher social class were determining factors in participation in schools post-16 and in further and higher education. On the other hand, eight studies found that a low parental value of education, parental influence against post-16 participation, negative family influence, and being in a lower social class could be factors acting as barriers to post-16 and further and higher education. 
  • Fifteen studies found that individual aspirations and motivations for participation in post-16 education were major drivers for participation – not only in terms of aspiration for education as an end in itself and for economic gain and better job opportunities, but also in simply placing a high personal value on education and a belief that this would lead to personal satisfaction. 

The survey found that differences between ethnic groups were largely explained by differences in cultural attitudes towards education in general and higher education in particular. Minority ethnic groups with high participation tended to have a high cultural awareness of the value of extending young people’s education. 

Other factors were:

  • Financial assistance, which was seen as being important in one study. This may be more important among those groups with low expectations and low emphasis on the value of post-16 and higher education.
  • Careers advice appears helpful for some ethnic groups.
  • Work experience is generally useful either in providing a reason for subsequent training or in acting as a negative experience of the workplace in comparison with college.  

Low-and middle-income countries [5]

There is a scarcity of robust evidence in this area. The review found positive effects for affirmative action in increasing access for targeted subgroups but also noted that these policies may have unintended negative consequences. Financial programmes and policies such as fee-sharing, dual-track tuition policies and different types of student loans may also positively increase access to higher education while shifting some portion of the costs of higher education from the government to the student. Careful consideration, however, must be taken to formulate the right mix of policies to ensure access for lower income students. The cost of such programmes and their long-term sustainability must also be taken into account. There was little evidence for the impact of cross-border and transnational provision and TVET (technical and vocational education and training) in increasing access to and the quality of higher education. A few randomised trials of vocational education programmes, however, did show significant gains to lower-income women who participated.


1. A systematic review of effective strategies to widen adult participation in learning  (2005)

2. A systematic review of the impact of financial circumstances on access to post-16 learning in the Learning and Skills Council sector (2005)

3. What are the factors that drive high post-16 participation of many ethnic minority groups, and what strategies are effective in encouraging participation? (2007)

4. What are the factors that promote high post-16 participation of many minority ethnic groups? A focused review of the UK-based aspirations literature (2008)

 5. How effective are different approaches to higher education provision in increasing access, quality and completion for students in developing countries? Does this differ by gender of students? A systematic review (2013)

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