14 October 2016

New paper: Can higher education improve social mobility?

A paper co-authored by Dr Gill Wyness and published in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy explores the relationship between higher education and social mobility.

Young people from poorer backgrounds are less likely to go to university than their richer peers. Even among the selected group who do go to university, they are less likely to attend the highest status institutions, less likely to graduate, and less likely to achieve the highest degree classes.

These differences contribute to the lower average earnings of graduates from poorer families. Yet, the paper – entitled Higher education, career opportunities, and intergenerational inequality – argues that even after taking such differences into account, graduates from affluent families are more likely to obtain a professional job and to earn more.

Getting a good degree from an elite university is therefore not enough to equalise career opportunities and earnings.

The authors recommend that universities do more to attract those from deprived backgrounds. For example, they could intervene during secondary school to raise aspirations and hopefully also attainment. Government policies should focus on providing greater support to students from poorer backgrounds while they are at university. Employers also have a duty to be transparent about their existing staff mix and actively encourage those from more deprived backgrounds with relevant qualifications to apply and progress.