DP17284 Expanding university access: Lessons from the UK experience in 1960-2004

Author(s): Andrea Ichino, Aldo Rustichini, Giulio Zanella
Publication Date: May 2022
Keyword(s): disadvantage, Higher education, Intelligence, Meritocracy
JEL(s): I23, I28, J24, O33
Programme Areas: Labour Economics, Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=17284

University access has greatly expanded during past decades and further growth figures prominently in political agendas. We study possible consequences of historical and future expansions in a stochastic, equilibrium Roy model where intelligence and disadvantage from socioeconomic and psychological factors determine higher education attainment. The enlargement of university access enacted in the UK following the 1963 Robbins Report provides an ideal case study to draw lessons for the future. We find that this expansion is associated with a decline of the average intelligence of graduates and of the college wage premium across cohorts, and that it mainly benefited students from advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Our structural estimates suggest that the implemented policy was no less important than technology in explaining these facts and was unfit to reach high-ability individuals as Robbins had instead advocated. A meritocratic selection of university students would have attained that goal and would have been more egalitarian.