'First in family': higher education choices and labour market outcomes

This project aims to assess the ‘first in family’ measure used by some universities to identify students as part of their approach to widening participation in university access. First in family refers to students who attend university and obtain a degree, but whose parents did not.

Researchers will use secondary data analysis to explore any overlap between the first in family metric and other markers of disadvantage such as eligibility for Free School Meals, having a disability, coming from a minority ethnic group, living in an area of low university participation and attending a poorly performing school. 

First in family students aged 16 will also be compared with their peers who could have been first in family but decide not go to university, and non-first in family peers of a similar profile who do decide to go to university, focusing on:

  • Whether these groups have different non-cognitive traits such as aspirations, perceived autonomy, and academic self-concept, which explain their educational trajectories.
  • The decisions first in family students make to study in Higher Education such as institution type, subject choice and whether to complete their studies.
  • How being first in family is related to labour market outcomes.

This information will help identify if particular characteristics have an impact on the higher education trajectories of students, and assess the wider impact on early labour market outcomes.

The project aims to improve and inform widening participation strategies at both university and national levels by improving understanding of the first in family metric, and how this compares to other measures of disadvantage.

Project details



Dr Morag Henderson, UCL Institute of Education

Dr Nikki Shure, UCL Institute of Education

Grant amount and duration:


October 2018 – March 2020