IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Project examining the expected value of university education among social classes receives funding

9 July 2019

A UCL Institute of Education (IOE) project examining how social class shapes expectations about education and impacts people’s decision whether to pursue higher education has received funding from the Nuffield Foundation.

University student

The research team will examine how people value the returns of pursuing higher education both socially and economically, offering a more complete account of the decision-making processes. They theorise that for disadvantaged children the choice involves a trade-off between social returns, i.e. conforming to family and friends’ behaviour, and the expected positive economic benefits, i.e. employment prospects. However, for advantaged children social and economic goals can be pursued simultaneously.

Using data from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies’ Next Steps study, the researchers will explore the reasons for choosing GCSE subjects at age 13-14, for taking A-levels and for entering university. 

Using this data, the interdisciplinary project aims to understand students’ processes of educational attainment and shed light on how class inequalities shape those processes and reduce the potential for social mobility.

IOE researcher Dr Nicola Pensiero said: “The decision to conform with peers affects not only the individual, but the broader community of students as it exacerbates school segregation and increases the cost of making non-conformist choices for the other children. We expect these mechanisms of segregation to generate diverging education choices among children from different social classes.”

The project will begin in December 2019 and will run until summer 2021.