Incentivising specific combinations of subjects: does it make any difference to university access?

Pub. Date
07 February, 2018

A major part of the 2010–15 UK government’s education reforms in England was a focus on the curriculum that pupils study from ages 14–16. Most high profile was the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) performance measure for schools, incentivising study of “subjects the Russell Group identifies as key for university study” (Gibb, 2011). However, there does not appear to be good quantitative evidence about the importance of studying such a set of subjects, per se. This paper sets out to analyse this question, considering whether otherwise similar young people who study specific sets of subjects (full set for EBacc-eligibility, two or more sciences, foreign languages, applied subjects) to age 16 have different probabilities of entering university, and specifically a high-status university. It compares results from regression modelling and propensity score matching, taking advantage of rich survey data from a recent cohort of young people in England. We find that conditional differences in university entry attributable to subject choice are, at most, small.