Fri 27 May 2016
It is one of those statistically proven facts that young people from higher educated backgrounds are more likely to get higher educated than their peers from lower educated families. Having parents with a university degree provides students with a greater chance to succeed in HE themselves, perhaps reaching even higher levels. Such facts and figures have been used in international comparisons like the OECD’s Education at a Glance, but also in national strategies targeting the lower social classes in order to widen participation.
I would like to reflect on this so-called fact, though, because it assumes a very stable idea of what ‘family’ means. It mirrors and purports a society perhaps of the generation before the sexual revolution in the late 1960s. Today, in an era where around half of the official marriages break up and single-parenthood has become a more frequent situation (at least temporarily) than biological families, this assumption should at least be challenged. How temporary and patch-work parenthood actually influences educational participation and success, is a question that has not reached the statisticians yet.
As the demographic background of students changes, where 60% of students (in Austria) have some kind of job besides their studies, and, where lifelong learning raises the average student age, I see many situations that influence HE participation greater than pure ancestry.
Leaving the financial aspects aside, participation and success would need to be measured against compatibility with respective cohabitant folks at home rather than biological parents. Having a learner-friendly environment is critical for deciding to take the plunge in the first instance, but also for persisting over a longer period of time. While women may find it relatively easy to tell their friends they’ll go to join a course, and may get endorsement from female friends, men find it considerably more difficult to talk about such a move to their friends, especially in lower educated environments. On the other hand, the home acceptance rate of women with low educated partners to go into FE or HE can be considered as a direct barrier to someone wanting to study, and many could be actively discouraged and prevented from doing so. All in all, the parent factor while still present in the figures may be of lower importance than the current generation experiences.