Educational choices at 16-19 and adverse outcomes at university

This project investigates whether qualification and subject choice at 16-19 can help explain why students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to experience adverse outcomes at university, such as dropping out, having to repeat a year, or receiving a grade below 2.1 in their final degree.

The main analysis makes use of linked school, college and higher education administrative data. Random effects models are being used to compare the probability of different adverse university outcomes for students with A-levels, BTECs and a range of other vocational/technical level 3 qualifications. A similar approach will reveal the extent to which choosing ‘preferred’ or ‘facilitating’ A-level subjects (e.g. mathematics) reduces the chance of adverse outcomes at university. The researchers will investigate the extent to which differences in both qualification and subject choice explain the socio-economic gap in university outcomes. 

Additional analyses will make use of individual-level datasets from nine UK universities exploring the role of module subjects and scores in mediating the relationships between qualifications/subjects and adverse university outcomes.

The findings will help inform universities’ decisions regarding course pre-requisites and entry requirements, as well as student support. They will also be of value to prospective university students and their advisers.

Project details



Dr Catherine Dilnot, Oxford Brookes University

Dr Lindsey Macmillan, UCL Institute of Education

Dr Gill Wyness, UCL Institute of Education

Grant amount and duration

£118,543 over 24 months

April 2019 – March 2021