Chance Of Attending University Still Influenced By Parents' Education

A teenager's chance of going to university is still influenced by their parents' education, new research suggests.

State school students with highly educated parents are five times more likely to go to university than those from families with few qualifications, according to a study by the Institute of Education.

It reveals that in England and Canada, the link between parental education and entry to university is stronger than in other leading English-speaking nations such as Australia and the United States.

The study analysed university entry data to examine the family backgrounds of students from the four countries.

The findings show that in England, state school pupils whose parents hold a degree are five times more likely to go university than those whose parents left school without any qualifications.

It says that gaps between the numbers of rich and poor children in England going on to higher education are "particularly large". This is mainly down to differences in how pupils are prepared academically for university.

It says that raising academic achievement for disadvantaged children should be a priority.

"Although socio-economic gaps in university access are particularly large in England, this is mostly driven by differences in academic preparation for university," the study says.

"Equalising school achievement (and completion of secondary education up to age 18) between rich and poor should thus be this country's most pressing policy concern."

But it adds that even after academic achievement is taken into account, children with university-educated parents are still twice as likely to go into higher education themselves than their peers from families with no qualifications.

And they are also twice as likely to win places at the UK's 24 leading universities, which includes Oxford and Cambridge.

The report says: "Previous research has found that qualifications from these institutions offer economic rewards above and beyond those from a 'typical' bachelor's degree.

"Hence it is a concern that young people from advantaged homes are the main beneficiaries of this labour market premium."

The study concludes that although it should be England's priority to raise the achievement of poorer pupils, universities could also be encouraged to use extra information - such as details about a candidate's background - when make decisions on applications.

Many institutions already use this "contextual data".

"The fact that pupils from low and high socio-economic backgrounds do not start from the same place, financially and academically, needs to be acknowledged by universities and incorporated into their decision making about admissions and bursaries," the study says.

"Although some countries (e.g. the US) are well advanced in their use of such information, others are not (e.g. England).

"Our recommendation is that the use of such 'contextual' information in the university admission process should become more widespread, alongside concerted action to narrow socio-economic gaps in pupil achievement at school."