Inequality in higher education outcomes in the UK: subjective expectations, preferences, and access to information
Higher education is a priority in UK government policy, but access to university is still unequal, with students from well-off families being more likely to apply for a degree.
Even among those who are already at university inequalities continue to emerge with differences in dropout rates, degree class and labour market outcomes linked to socio-economic status (SES).
Earlier literature points to several factors which may undermine lower-SES students’ success at university. Students from these groups are found to be less likely to plan ahead; they tend to have less information about their own academic ability and other relevant aspects of university outcomes; and they have social networks containing more people in unemployment or on benefits.
This project aims to understand how differences by socio-economic status in perceptions about own academic ability, beliefs about the factors linked to success at university, willingness to take risk and to invest in the future, access to information and job search strategies contribute to SES inequalities in university attainment and labour market outcomes of university graduates in the UK.
We first propose to use linked administrative data registers to provide a comprehensive description of the association between parental socio-economic status and dropout rates, degree class, employment, earnings, and participation in post-graduate education in the UK over the last decade.
We then propose to investigate specific mechanisms for the emergence of these inequalities. We will collect new data from students at various UK universities to assess how beliefs about the factors linked to success at university, willingness to take risk and to invest in the future, access to information and job search strategies contribute to university attainment and labour market outcomes of university graduates. Using existing data, we will also explore whether early performance in university exams affects dropout and degree class differently by socio-economic characteristics, and examine whether socio-economic differences in access to social networks and local labour markets are partly responsible for inequality in employment and earnings.
Data sources and methods
We will combine a wide range of data to achieve our aims. We will use administrative student records held by the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA). These records can be matched to the National Pupil Database (NPD), which contains information on pupils in publicly funded secondary schools; and the Individualised Learner Records (ILRs), which provide information on pupils enrolled in sixth form and tertiary colleges. Information on labour market outcomes and participation in postgraduate education will be available through the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education surveys (DLHE). Finally, we will also collect our own data.
Wandi Bruine de Bruin
- University of Leeds
Professor of Economics - University of Essex
Professor of Economics - ISER - University of Essex
Senior Research Officer - ISER, University of Essex
Senior Lecturer in Economics - University of Essex
Senior Survey Officer - ISER - University of Essex