Presented by Ralph Scott

In Western democracies in recent years, an individual’s level of education has become increasingly important in understanding why they think and vote the way they do. Yet in the study of politics, education has rarely been a primary focus, and so the reasons for this influence remain understudied. To address this gap, the researcher applies multi-level modelling techniques to longitudinal data (including the 1970 British Cohort Study and the British Election Study) to estimate and explain the effect of attending higher education on political values, addressing four motivating research questions.

  • First, how much of the difference between graduates and non-graduates is attributable to a causal effect of university (rather than a selection effect)?
  • Second, how does this effect vary based on individual characteristics and differences in university experience?
  • Third, what can we learn about the effect from the trajectory of value change while studying?
  • And fourth, how has the effect of higher education changed over time, as the participation rate and wider political context has changed?

The researcher finds that an individual becomes less racially prejudiced and more socially liberal as a result of attending university, while the effect on economic values has changed over time. Graduates used to become more economically right-wing, but those in the most recent generation become more left-wing, perhaps explained by the changing socio-economic circumstances for graduates in the intervening period. These and other findings provide useful insights into a vital and underexplored aspect of contemporary political behaviour.