Education as a source of growing social and political cleavage in Great Britain

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Social Sciences


Educational attainment, particularly obtaining a university degree, is rapidly becoming the key social and political cleavage in modern Britain. The growing importance of university education in shaping the contours of public opinion has been evident for some while but was brought to the forefront of public debate during the EU referendum.

The deepest gradient in the Brexit vote was between graduates and non-graduates, a cleavage which now also dominates preferences between Labour and the Conservatives as well as a range of other areas of public controversy and debate. This has led to a focus amongst politicians and the commentariat on what is driving the growing divide, with some attributing the phenomenon to liberal biases of the academic community. This, in turn, has led to a series of high profile critiques of university governance and funding and allied concerns of the emergence of a 'culture war'.

This PhD dissertation will apply advanced statistical methods to a range of key ESRC longitudinal data resources (the cohort studies, Understanding Society, the British Election Study) to investigate the nature and causes of educational polarization in modern Britain. As well as describing how public opinion has been shaped by increasing graduate concentration since the early 1990s, the thesis will address the extent to which the distribution of public attitudes are shaped, on the one hand, by non-random selection into universities and, on the other, the educational and experiental effects of university education.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000673/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2122717 Studentship ES/P000673/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2022 Elizabeth Simon