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Research finds links between university attended and graduates’ future prospects

Posted on 18 June 2015

A University of York researcher is supporting calls for more scrutiny of graduates’ prospects, following his study showing variations in access to top positions for graduates of different universities.

Graduates (credit: Caro Wallis, Flickr)

Dr Paul Wakeling’s research, carried out with Professor Mike Savage of the London School of Economics, found there were advantages in attending the 24 leading UK ‘Russell Group’ research intensive universities, compared with other higher education establishments. Russell Group graduates were more likely to end up in the ‘top’ class jobs than graduates of other universities.

While the chances of having a higher professional or managerial occupation varied little across Russell Group graduates, the ‘golden triangle’ of Oxbridge and the University of London dominated in terms of the ‘Elite’ class, with Oxford seeing the very highest rate of membership.

The study was based on over 161,000 responses to the BBC’s Great British Class Survey experiment in 2011, which identified a ‘new model of social class’, including Elite, Emergent Service Workers and Precariat. Over half of the respondents to the initial survey were graduates, with data provided on household income, house value, household savings, cultural activities and social networks, along with the names of the universities attended.

Dr Wakeling and colleagues used this information to compare outcomes for graduates. They found that while most of the ‘elite’ are graduates, only a minority of graduates are in the elite.

Dr Wakeling, of the Department of Education at York, said: “Beyond the obvious elite of prominent members of ‘the Establishment’, we know very little about long-term outcomes for graduates from different universities. Previous research has demonstrated inequalities in access to university and we know there are some differences in the very early labour market experiences of graduates, so we wanted to look at what happens next.

“Our findings represent worrying evidence of the entrenchment of privilege. They also point to the need for a fine-grained understanding of access to and through higher education.”

Dr Wakeling added, “The Great British Class Survey is unusual in that it gives access to a sizeable sample of graduates from specific universities, so this is potentially an important contribution to understanding more about how universities contribute to social mobility.”

Further information:

  • Dr Paul Wakeling is an academic in the University of York’s Department of Education with research interests in the sociology of education (particularly higher education), social stratification and social mobility. His current research focus is access to postgraduate study, particularly social class, gender and ethnic inequalities, and using large secondary datasets. He is currently conducting research for HEFCE and ESRC on research projects funded as part of HEFCE's Postgraduate Support Scheme.
  • The findings of the study are published in “Entry to elite positions and the stratification of higher education in Britain” by Paul Wakeling and Mike Savage, in the Sociological Review.

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