'Little evidence' that wider access succeeds on underprivileged, researchers claim

The expansion of higher education over the past 15 years has largely benefited middle-class rather than working-class children, a study has suggested.

February 29, 2012

Analysis of data from the Economic and Social Research Council’s Understanding Society longitudinal survey shows that the proportion of people between 22 and 34 with degrees has risen by 8.6 per cent per cent compared to those between 37 and 49.

However, this rise was not evenly distributed across social classes, according to the study led by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, drawing on data on almost 34,000 people.

The proportion of those with degrees whose parents had “intermediate occupations” such as clerical or sales jobs is more than 11 per cent higher in the younger cohort.

But among those whose parents hold “routine and manual occupations”, the growth in the proportion with a degree is only 5 per cent.

Peter Elias, a professor in the University of Warwick’s Institute for Employment Research and one of the co-authors of the analysis, said the results partly reflected the decline in manual occupations and the increase in white-collar occupations over the last 40 years.

“Nonetheless, given the remarkable increase in the participation of young people in higher education that has taken place over the last 20 years, the brief analysis presented here reveals little evidence that the much-vaunted policy ambition to provide better access to higher education to those from less privileged backgrounds has been successful.”

Further analysis of the data is planned, including an examination of variations by gender. Last year the universities and science minister David Willetts was criticised for suggesting that the expansion in higher education had largely benefited the daughters of the middle class, rather than working-class men.


You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (27 July 2017)

It is not Luddism to be cautious about destroying an academic publishing industry that has served us well, says Marilyn Deegan

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver

Creator of controversial predatory journals blacklist says some peers are failing to warn of dangers of disreputable publishers

Hand squeezing stress ball
Working 55 hours per week, the loss of research periods, slashed pensions, increased bureaucracy, tiny budgets and declining standards have finally forced Michael Edwards out
Kayaker and jet skiiers

Nazima Kadir’s social circle reveals a range of alternative careers for would-be scholars, and often with better rewards than academia

hole in ground

‘Drastic action’ required to fix multibillion-pound shortfall in Universities Superannuation Scheme, expert warns