School subject choices and social inequalities in higher education entry and labour market outcomes

This project aims to assess whether and to what extent social class differentials in entry to higher education and in occupational destinations are mediated by subject choices in secondary education. In Scotland and overall in the UK, students in upper secondary education are free to choose the type and number of subjects. At the same time, universities, in particular the Russell Group universities, require students to have studied certain subjects in secondary education in order to gain access to the desired study programme in their institutions. These institutional characteristics may reinforce social inequalities in higher education entry and the choice of institution in Scotland (and the UK) and ultimately affect the chances for social mobility.

In order to highlight this mechanism, the project compares the mediating role of subject choice for social inequalities in higher education outcomes between Scotland and Ireland where selection into higher education is mostly based on attainment. Moreover, we use this country comparison to assess whether subject choices in secondary education explain social class differentials in labour market outcomes among those who do not opt for higher education in Scotland to a larger extent than in Ireland.

For our analyses, we use the NCDS data, the Scottish and Irish School Leaver Surveys and the Scottish Longitudinal Study (for this latter project details are available on the SLS website).

Find out more about this project and read AQMeN research briefing 7.   


Policy relevance: 
This research is policy-relevant because it identifies mechanisms by which social inequalities in secondary and tertiary education come about and how they affect labour market outcomes and gives policy makers crucial insights in how to reduce social differences in life course outcomes.
April, 2015

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