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Information, expectations and transition to higher education


Widening participation in higher education is an important goal in the United Kingdom. In this project, we aim to understand the role of information and expectations in the processes generating socio-economic inequalities in the decision to stay on in full-time post-compulsory non-university (secondary) education and to apply to university.

Project aims

First, we will investigate whether students in year 10 at school change their intentions to stay on to full-time post-compulsory education in response to new information about their academic ability. The results will provide recommendations on the best way to provide feedback on academic performance to students in secondary schools.

Second, we will evaluate what determines whether someone who applies to university will be admitted (including socio-economic status and past academic performance), which is likely to play an important role in a person’s decision to apply to university.

Finally, using new nationally representative survey data embedding a randomized information intervention, we will evaluate whether there are systematic differences in young people and their parents’ subjective expectations about the returns and costs to a university degree by socio-economic status, and whether delivering information on earnings to both adults and youths can lead individuals to change their perceptions of the returns to a university degree and young people to change their intentions to apply to university.


Project 1: Information about academic ability

We will use nationally representative survey and administrative data on English teenagers (the “Longitudinal Study of Young People in England”-LSYPE- linked with the “National Pupil Database”-NPD) which provide information on students’ and their families’ educational expectations and aspirations, together with detailed information on students’ academic performance.

Project 2: Expectations of university admission application

In this project, we propose to use the LSYPE to describe the socio-economic determinants of students’ expectations in years 9 and 10 at school about the subjective likelihood of being admitted to university given a hypothetical application.

Project 3: Parents and youths’ subjective expectations and information about the returns to schooling

In this project, we will analyse new data on youths and parents’ expectations about the returns to a university degree that will be collected in the 8th and 9th waves of the Understanding Society Innovation Panel through a questionnaire module designed by Delavande and Zafar.

The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and qualitative methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Ada Lovelace Institute. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit

Team members

Professor Adeline Delavande

Professor of Economics - ISER, University of Essex

Dr Laura Fumagalli

Senior Research Officer - ISER, University of Essex

Basit Zafar

Associate Professor - Arizona State University