Information, Expectations and Transition to Higher Education

This project aims to understand the role of information and expectations in the decision to stay on in full-time post-compulsory education and to apply to university.

Despite a dramatic increase in higher education participation in the UK, young people from poorer backgrounds are still less likely to go to university. One obvious explanation may be short-term credit constraints. However, other factors may include access to information which could influence families' beliefs about the return to educations, or knowledge of financial aid.

First, the researchers will investigate whether Year 10 students change their intentions to stay on to full-time post-compulsory education in response to new information about their academic ability. The results will provide recommendations on the best way to provide feedback on students' academic performance.

Second, the researchers will explore Year 9 and 10 pupils' beliefs about how likely they are to get a university offer in future, and see how this varies by socio-economic status and academic performance. These beliefs are thought to play an important role in the decision to apply to university.

Finally, the researchers will use national survey data to evaluate young people's and their parents' expectations about the returns and costs to a university degree, and examine whether this varies by socio-economic status. The researchers will also look at the effects of an intervention delivering information on earnings to both adults and young people, to see if this can change perceptions of the returns to a university degree, and intentions to apply to university.

This study has three distinctive features. First, it focuses not only on higher education participation, but also covers the transition between compulsory and post-compulsory education. Second, it aims to isolate the role of information and beliefs on expected returns of education in determining educational choices. Third, it gives great emphasis to parental characteristics and expectations to understand students' decisions.

Project details



Professor Adeline Delavande and Laura Fumagalli, Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex

Dr Basit Zafar, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Grant amount and duration:


February 2015 – January 2019