Social Class and Higher Education

Issues affecting decisions on participation by lower social class groups

Connor H, Dewson S, with Tyers C, Eccles J, Regan J, Aston J | Research Report RR267 | Department for Education and Employment | Feb 2001

Despite a major expansion in student numbers, which has enabled more people from wider backgrounds to take higher education (HE) qualifications, students from lower social class backgrounds continue to be under represented.

Fewer than one in five young people from the lower social class groups (IIIm, IV and V) participate in HE, well below the 45 per cent who participate from the higher social class groups (IIIn, II and I).

The main reasons for the differences in participation rates by social class groups have been shown by previous research to relate to educational factors and family backgrounds, and also perceptions about costs involved and benefits of HE study.

This perspective on participation issues shows how a great many issues can affect decisions to go on to HE study, and that there is no one overriding factor of influence for students from lower social class backgrounds. However, they tend to take account of a wider range of issues than their higher social class counterparts.

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