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Family Background and University Success

By Nuffield Foundation

Reducing socio-economic gaps in education outcomes has been at the heart of government strategy to raise social mobility for many years.

Achieving higher educational qualifications enables individuals to earn more, on average, so if those from poorer backgrounds are less likely to attain these qualifications than those from richer backgrounds, then the socio-economic circumstances of parents and children will continue to be inextricably linked.

A recently published book, Family Background and University Success, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and written by researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the UCL Institute of Education, and the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick draws together the latest quantitative evidence for England, to provide new insight into what drives these gaps – and hence what policymakers might need to do to reduce them. It also considers socio-economic differences in access to different degree courses, as well as dropout, degree class and labour market outcomes.

Watch the Family Background and University Success seminar and book launch

Key findings from the book were presented and discussed at a seminar and book launch hosted by the Nuffield Foundation in partnership with the Institute for Fiscal Studies on 5 December 2016.

Part one includes presentations from:

  • Professor Anna Vignoles, University of Cambridge: How large are the returns to university and how do they vary by institution/subject?
  • Professor Lorraine Dearden, UCL Institute of Education and Institute for Fiscal Studies: How large are the socioeconomic status gaps in higher education participation and what drives them?
  • Dr Claire Crawford, University of Warwick and Institute for Fiscal Studies: Socioeconomic status gaps in degree outcomes

Part two features:

  • Presentation from Professor Emeritus John Micklewright, UCL Institute of Education: Policy Implications
  • Responses to the book from Professor Nicholas Barr, London School of Economics and Political Science, Professor Les Ebdon CBE DL, Office for Fair Access, and Dr Chris Wilson, The Brilliant Club
IFS Observation and other resources

The book’s authors introduce some key issues in this IFS Observation.

Some of the material covered by the book can also be found in earlier, freely available publications funded by the Nuffield Foundation. These are available on the Higher education funding access project page, and the Estimating the human capital of graduates project page.

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We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in EducationWelfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.