I have read this article from a London newspaper this morning. The paragraph says:

The government wants half of all those aged 18 to 30 in higher education. However, the figure had risen to only 43 per cent last year.

My questions are as follows:
1. If I use rose instead of had risen, is there a difference in meaning?
2. Isn't using rose (simple past) in the above context more natural than using had risen (past perfect) in spoken English especially if there is no another past action/event in a sentence?

I would really appreciate your inputs.
1-- No
2-- Probably, but it's hard to know what's in the speaker's mind.
Thanks, Mister Micawber, for your input. Great help! Emotion: smile