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What is the multiple equality measure?

The multiple equality measure (MEM) is UCAS' principal measure of equality. It brings together information on several equality dimensions for which large differences in the probability of progression into higher education exist. These equality dimensions include sex, ethnic group, where people live (using the POLAR3 and IMD classifications), secondary education school type, and income background (as measured by whether a person was in receipt of free school meals (FSM), a means-tested benefit while at school).

These equality dimensions are combined using statistical modelling techniques and a linked dataset of pupils in English schools who were aged 18 between 2006 and 2010 (source: National Pupil Database and School Census, Department for Education). The probability of entry to higher education aged 18 is then calculated based on these equality characteristics and their combinations.

These probabilities are then used to aggregate pupils into groups, where group 1 contains those least likely to enter higher education (“most disadvantaged” in this context), and group 5 contains those most likely to enter higher education (“most advantaged” in this context). The composition of these groups, and their entry rates, can then be calculated and the trends in these assessed over time.

Composition of the multiple equality measure

The way in which the multiple equality measure groups are formed means that, within a group, there is a mixture of people with different combinations of characteristics. The following charts show how each individual characteristic divides across the multiple equality measure (MEM) groups.

These MEM groups can be explored based on sex, ethnicity, POLAR3, school type and by free-school meals (FSM).

Pupils from independent schools are not included in the sankey propotions for POLAR3 and ethnic group, because the required data is not available. These pupils are assumed to not be receiving free school meals. Any other pupils with missing data are excluded from this analysis.

Hover over the paths or coloured blocks to bring up their proportions.

Exploring entry rates by combinations of characteristics

The interactive scatter plots below allow the exploration of entry rates for the individual combinations of characteristics that make up each group in the multiple equality measure.

Entry rates from previous years can be compared against 2019, with each bubble representing a particular combination of characteristics. The size of the bubble is proportional to the size of that group in the young population and the colour of the bubbles can be chosen to show one of the equality dimensions. These are selectable via the dropdown boxes below.

Only combinations that have a population of least 100 in 2019 are shown. Note, that even with this threshold, random fluctuations in the entry rate will be appreciable with smaller groups. For example, if the population for a group is 1,000, then the entry rate might vary by ± 3 percentage points each year simply by chance.

Hovering over the points brings up an information box with further details on the selected combination of characteristics. Clicking on the legend text can be used to hide and show the data points from different groups on the chart.

Entry rates by equality dimension


  • Entry rate: Number of acceptances from a UCAS application cycle divided by the estimated base population.
  • FSM: Free school meals - a means-tested benefit that can be used as an indicator of low income, which has been sourced from the national pupil database (NPD). Changes to the coverage of the free school meal indicator in the School Census for the 2013-14 academic year, affecting those applying in the 2016 cycle aged 18, made it necessary to adjust identification of the FSM group in the UCAS data. This means that entry rates reported for the FSM and non-FSM groups differ slightly from those in older end of cycle reports.
  • MEM: the Multiple Equality Measure brings together information on several equality dimensions for which large differences in the probability of progression into higher education exist -- including sex, geography, ethnic group, secondary education sector and income background -- and combines their effects into a single measure.
  • NPD: The Department for Education's national pupil database (NPD) holds a range of information about pupils who attend schools and colleges in England. For this analysis, a link has been formed between individuals attending state schools and colleges in the NPD at 15 years old and those who were 18 years old in UCAS’ data three years later.
  • POLAR4: Developed by HEFCE and classifies small areas across the UK into five groups according to their level of young participation in HE. Each of these groups represents around 20 per cent of young people and is ranked from quintile 1 (areas with the lowest young participation rates, considered as the most disadvantaged) to quintile 5 (highest young participation rates, considered most advantaged). POLAR4 is the successor to POLAR3.

Further information can be found in the 2019 End of Cycle report. 



For people living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, UCAS covers the overwhelming majority of full-time undergraduate provision. Therefore, the statistics on acceptances or entry rates can be taken as being very close to all recruitment to full-time undergraduate higher education. In Scotland there is a substantial section of provision that is not included in UCAS' figures. This is mostly full-time higher education provided in further education colleges, which represents around one third of young, full-time undergraduate study in Scotland. This proportion varies by geography and background in Scotland. Accordingly, the statistics on UCAS entry rates and acceptances in these interactive charts reflect only that majority of full-time undergraduate study that uses UCAS.

From the 2015 cycle onwards, applications to postgraduate teacher training programmes in Scotland were included in the UCAS Undergraduate admissions scheme. Previously, these were recruited through UCAS Teacher Training. In 2015, around 120 courses at providers in Scotland moved into the UCAS Undergraduate scheme, estimated to represent around 2,000 acceptances, mostly aged 21 or over. Comparisons between 2016 and 2014 (or earlier cycles) will be affected by this change.

These interactive charts were created using the D3 javascript library and Chart.js.