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Family background and university success


Individuals who go to university still earn substantially more, on average, than those who don’t. But the socio-economic status of your parents may affect how likely you are to go to university – and how well you do once there. In this case higher education may strengthen, rather than weaken, the links between the circumstances in which you grow up and your own socio-economic status as an adult, thus undermining the government’s aim of increasing social mobility.

This event will bring together the latest quantitative evidence on the size of the socio-economic gaps in university access and success in England, and what drives them. It will consider in particular how important are exam results from primary and secondary school, as well as the latest evidence on whether higher tuition fees have put off those from poorer backgrounds from applying.

The discussion will focus particularly on drawing out the insights from this research for policymakers, universities and schools, including how much emphasis should be placed on getting students from lower socio-economic backgrounds into university – and how best to do this – and how much should instead be given to what happens to them once they are at university, and after they have graduated.

The presentations will be based on the findings of a major new study, Family Background and University Success, by Claire Crawford, Lorraine Dearden, John Micklewright and Anna Vignoles, published by Oxford University Press. Drawing on research financed by the Nuffield Foundation and other funders, the authors dissect in a concise, clear way why exactly is it that young people from poorer families in England are less likely to go to university than their counterparts in richer families, the impact of the 2006 and 2012 funding reforms, who does best at university once they are there, and who succeeds in the labour market following graduation.

This event will also feature a panel discussion featuring Nicholas Barr (Professor of Public Economics, London School of Economics), Les Ebdon (Director of Fair Access to Education, Office for Fair Access), and Chris Wilson (National Programme Director, Brilliant Club).