Information and Educational Decisions

Lead Research Organisation: London School of Economics & Pol Sci
Department Name: Centre for Economic Performance

Abstract

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Description We invited all secondary schools in London to take part in the study. Of these, 54 schools participated in the main evaluation, which took place during the 2010/11 academic year. At each school, all students in year 10 (14/15 year olds) completed a 40-minute survey. Eight to twelve weeks later, they completed a very similar survey. In between the two periods, some schools were given an information package about the costs and benefits of staying in education, whereas other schools were given the package at a later stage.



The central component of the information package was a password-protected website ('Whats4me'), designed to convey simple information about the costs and benefits of staying in education - including the likely improvement in earnings capacity and employment prospects, and information about fees, loans and maintenance grants.



By chance, the project coincided with the independent review of higher education and student finance led by Lord Browne (October 2010) and the subsequent government decision to increase university fees. We measure the effects of media reporting by number of articles on the BBC website about tuition fees between January 2010 and the date of each survey.



Our findings fall into three main categories:



1. The poor state of knowledge in participating schools



Our results showed large gaps in knowledge. For example, fewer than half of students knew that fees are paid after university and once they have a job. While most students realised that staying longer in education increases the probability of finding a job, about one in five did not know this. Furthermore, many students did not realise that expected earnings vary depending on the subject they study and the university they attend.



2. The power of 'information campaigns' and the media



We looked at the impacts of our information experiment and media reporting about tuition fees on (a) student knowledge of costs and benefits; (b) student attitudes towards the expense of staying on in education; (c) students aspirations to stay on in education and apply to university.

Our results indicate that media reporting and a fairly 'light-touch' information campaign have quite sizeable effects - at least in the short term. Most importantly, they can work in opposite directions. Our information campaign led students to think that staying in education would be affordable (loan conditions and grants were carefully explained) whereas media reporting led students to think that going to university would be 'too expensive'.



3. Differences by social background



While there was no difference in reaction to the experiment according to whether the school was comprehensive or independent/selective, the media reporting had a bigger impact in comprehensive schools - increasing the perception of going to university as 'too expensive'. Students eligible to receive free school meals were much more sensitive both to our experiment and to media reporting. The media reporting greatly increased the perception of unaffordability, whereas the experiment worked in the opposite direction.



This illustrates both the unequalising impact of reforms and the scope for 'information campaigns' to at least partly close this gap.
Exploitation Route 1) It is of direct use to the schools involved and we have received good feedback.

2) It is of use to universities involved in widening participating activities. For example, the LSE Widening Participation Officer (Stephen Grundy) said the following: "The main ways we might use the website would be to perhaps show the video and let students have a look at the materials etc during some of our events where student finance is discussed. So probably things like Summer Schools and LSE Choice. We might also encourage our ambassadors who are involved in mentoring in schools to use the website during their sessions with mentees."

3) It is of interest to policy advisors. For example, the outline of the results in CentrePiece was highly praised by one of David Willet's Special Advisors (Nick Hillman). This project can influence the academic community through the discussion paper (and subsequent publications):

http://cee.lse.ac.uk/ceedps/ceedp139.pdf



A data set has also been produced that will be made available to the academic community through the Data Archive (in process).



Furthermore, the research materials have also been made available since the findings were published in the discussion paper
Sectors Education

URL http://www.whats4me.co.uk/
 
Description * Research findings, disseminated in an accessible way to economists and non-economists, via various publications and presentations. This has contributed to the literature and has helped others think about similar research designs for evaluation of information provision. * Provision of a practical resource that can be used by schools. This applies to all participating schools in the project. Also, we have now made all the materials publicly accessible on the whats4me website.: http://www.whats4.me.uk * Provision of a resource that can be used by universities in their outreach work. The Widening Participation team at LSE are going to use it in their activities. * I am developing future projects on information and advice drawing on this work and other academic research that has emerged in recent years. This is in the context of the research programme of the (BIS-funded) Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER). I have written up a review of evidence (including this work) for the IZA World of Labor Discussion Paper Series. The Steering Group for CVER have asked me to consider future project proposals in this area based on my own and others' work.
Sector Education
Impact Types Economic

 
Title SN 7132 Information and Educational Decisions, 2010-2011 
Description Survey information for all Year 10 students in 54 schools in London. This has been deposited to the Data Archive 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2012 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact N/A 
 
Description Bad advice turns poor students off university 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Article in The Guardian

The Guardian
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/aug/25/poor-advice-means-disadvantaged-think-university-is-...
 
Description Pupils need more information about the costs and benefits of higher education 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Article in The Guardian

The Guardian
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/aug/29/higher-education-costs-informati...