account arrow-down-linearrow-down-small arrow-downarrow-download arrow-left-small arrow-leftarrow-link arrow-rightarrow-upaudio-less-volume audio-not-playing audio-plus-volume audio awarded books calendar close-modal closedate document education emailevent Facebookhamburger impact instagramjustice linkedin location-outline location opinion page phonepinterestplay pluspost preview project reports search-bigsearch-old search share startime twitterwelfare youtube zoom-in zoom-out

Socio-economic status, subject choice at 14, and university access

Researchers: Dr Jake Anders | Dr Morag Henderson ...

Project overview

There is a large socio-economic status gap in higher education (HE) participation in England. However, most evidence suggests that this is driven by inequality that emerges before the point of application. It has been suggested that one such source of inequality is the subjects and qualifications studied by young people while still at school. The importance of this factor for young people’s chances of progressing to HE in general and to highly selective HE institutions in particular, has increasingly attracted the attention of policy-makers. This has been most notable in the UK Government’s introduction of the English Baccalaureate performance measure for schools at age 16 and the introduction of performance in Russell Group ‘facilitating subjects’ at A-Level for schools at age 18. However, this area is under-studied in the academic literature.


This project aims to address this gap using a combination of survey and administrative data on a recent cohort of English students. It will analyse the subject choices taken by young people at age 14 (affecting subjects and qualifications studied for examinations predominantly at age 16). It will use statistical analysis to estimate the subsequent importance of subject choice in the probability of attending university or a highly competitive university. It will also consider the association between socio-economic status and young people’s subject choices, and the extent to which this acts as a transmission mechanism between socio-economic status and inequality in attendance at university.

Latest on this project


  • Dr Jake Anders
    Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University College London
  • Dr Morag Henderson
    Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University College London
  • Alice Sullivan
    Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University College London
  • Dr Vanessa Moulton
    Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University College London

  • Cheryl Lloyd
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

Search projects

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

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.