POLAR – Participation of Local Areas

POLAR (Participation of Local Areas) is a classification of small areas across the UK. We publish it as a series of maps and data sets, showing the participation of young people in higher education (HE) for geographical areas ranging from regions to wards.

About POLAR 

How likely young people are to participate in HE varies across the UK. We carry out research to understand this geographical variation and the reasons for it.  

One output from this research is the POLAR classification which shows how the chances of young people entering HE vary by where they live. 

The classification comprises five quintile groups of areas ordered from ‘1’ (those wards with the lowest participation) to ‘5’ (those wards with the highest participation), each representing 20 per cent of UK young cohort.

Our ongoing work on young participation has led to continuous development of the POLAR classification through time. 

The first classification, known simply as POLAR, was made publicly available in 2005. This included a series of national and local level maps and data sets. 

The HEFCE report 'Young participation in higher education' (HEFCE 2005/03) described the reasons for looking at young participation rates for areas, and provided in depth explanation of the methodology used. 

The report also contained national results and trends to act as a context for the local patterns shown in POLAR. 

We published an updated version of POLAR, known as POLAR2, in 2007. This made use of more recent information on HE entrants, and extended the scope of the classification to include part-time study and a range of other HE qualification aims. 


We have now made another update to POLAR to make use of the most recent information on those who entered HE during the 2005-06 to 2010-11 academic years.

In outline these data show:

An increase in the average young participation rate - The average young participation rate during the POLAR3 definition period was 34.7 per cent. This is an increase of two percentage points over the average rate during the POLAR2 period (2000-01 to 2005-06 academic years).

Greater geographical equality – The average participation rates across the POLAR3 quintiles are closer together than they were for the POLAR2 quintiles. This means that the chances of young people going to HE are, on average, more equal than they used to be, regardless of which quintile they are from.

‌Substantial regional variation - across the UK young participation rates vary substantially. On average there are lower rates of participation in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, and higher rates in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and in particular London. 

‌Varied increases in participation by region - London and the North East have seen the biggest increases in participation rates, while Wales and the South West have seen relatively small increases, and Scotland has seen a fall of one percentage point.

Average young participation rates during the POLAR3 period (left) and the percentage point increase in average rates compared to POLAR2 (right) across the UK


Average young participation rates during the POLAR3 period (large version)

Download the Average young participation rates during the POLAR3 period as PDF (105 KB)

Percentage point increase in average rates compared to POLAR2 across the UK (large version)

Download the Percentage point increase in average rates compared to POLAR2 across the UK as PDF (105 KB)

We have published all the data on which we have based this analysis. Resources available include: 

  • data sets which provide the POLAR3 classifications for postcode areas and 2001 census wards
  • a selection of maps at national and sub-national geographies. 

See all the available data 

 In time we aim to make additional resources available including further (more interactive) maps, additional data sets, and a postcode to POLAR3 quintile lookup facility. 

More about POLAR3 

Copyright notes

POLAR3 is subject to the Open Government Licence for public sector information.

The HE qualification level classification of areas is based on 2001 Census data. Census output is Crown copyright and is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland (Source: 2001 Census; Key Statistics).

Unit postcodes are the copyright of Royal Mail. The postcode files are based on the ONS National Statistics Postcode Directory and are reproduced with the permission of the ONS.

Page last updated 3 October 2012

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