SWINDON students are some of the least likely in the country to go to university.

Department for Education data showed that 422 students who finished their 16-to-18 study in Swindon in 2015/16 went on to study a degree or similar course within two years.

This was just 32 per cent of all students, the lowest rate of school leavers in England to continue to higher education.

The figure improved slightly in 2016/17, where 34 per cent of 1,624 pupils went to higher education, placing Swindon 147th out of 152 local authorities – and there is plenty of optimism for the future.

New College deputy principal Adam Fahey said: “Each year, New College sends over 500 students to university or higher education destinations, with 49 per cent of the 2018/19 cohort applying to university.

“Many Swindon students apply to local universities, which may not necessarily be Russell group ones.

“Some students naturally eschew higher education because of the cost and there has been an increase in the number of advanced and higher apprenticeships available.

"The higher education offer at New College is an affordable alternative to university and caters for those who want to stay in Swindon and pay a lesser fee for a degree-level qualification.

“We spend a lot of effort and resources on providing careers and university support to our learners.

“The college has been working in collaboration with various stakeholders to increase participation in higher education across the town.

“The planned Institute of Technology is a great example of this activity as it will help to address both skills shortages and numbers going on to higher education.”

The Department for Education figures only include those from state-funded schools and colleges who did A-level or equivalent qualifications, and who continuously studied at university for at least six months.

In Swindon, nine per cent of students went to one of the top third most competitive universities in 2015/16, ranked by the average exam results of entrants.

This included five per cent who got into one of the 24 elite Russell Group universities, considered to be among the UK’s best.

Less than 0.5 per cent of all students secured a coveted place at Oxford or Cambridge.

Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for finance, education and skills Russell Holland said: “I think it’s really important to keep in mind that getting a degree is one of a number of options for students.

“Vocational skills are as important as educational skills so this statistic is not automatically a bad thing.

“We want to encourage the very best opportunities that students can have at Swindon schools and get good jobs in Swindon.

“We have the aspiration for this and I’m optimistic about the future.

“I think the proposed merger between New College and Swindon College, as well as the funding for the Institute of Technology, will bring more opportunities and improvements in due course.”

A Swindon Borough Council spokesman said: “Less young people in Swindon are moving into higher education compared to the national average, but that does not tell the whole story.

“Swindon is in line with the national average in terms of the number of young people who completed a Level 3 course (A-level or equivalent) and were in sustained education, employment or training.

“More young people in Swindon (36 per cent) are progressing into employment when compared to the national average (24 per cent) and we also have a higher number of young people moving into apprenticeships.

“A number of employers in the town are also offering young people jobs with the option of studying for a higher education qualification while they work.

“A higher education strategy has been developed with the help of our partners and this has been boosted by an increase in both the number of higher and degree apprenticeships, as well as more courses from our education providers. We are also working with key stakeholders on the development of the Institute of Technology’.

“Work is taking place with schools and colleges to increase attainment and progression into higher education.”