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Does the heart rule the head? Economic and emotional incentives for university attendance

  • Academic publication
  • 12th May 2016


Young people from low income families and in rural areas have been shown to be less likely to attend university than their wealthier counterparts, even with the same grades. This paper examines the impact of providing information on the costs and benefits of attending university on the interest and likelihood of young people attending university, which has been shown to be effective in other contexts. Here, three approaches are trialled in schools in rural England: (1) students were given information cards clarifying the costs and benefits of going to university; (2) students’ parents received the cards; (3) students were given an aspirational talk on what it’s like to go to university. We find that students who received the information cards were significantly less likely to state their intention to go to university. In contrast, we find that students that attended the talk were significantly more likely to state they intended on going to university. In addition, in a sub-sample of students with university application data we also find that self-reported intentions significantly predicts actual applications. These findings indicate that information delivery pathways matter in improving students’ aspirations and that emphasising the social and personal growth has a greater impact on aspiration than financial gains.