Aimhigher: excellence challenge: a policy evaluation using the labour force survey
AbstractOver the past decades, an increasing number of young people have entered into higher education in the UK. Yet, despite this growth, the UK still has a low ranking in international comparisons for the rate of participation in post-compulsory education. Furthermore, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are greatly underrepresented. Aimhigher: Excellence Challenge is one of the government initiatives designed in an attempt to address this problem. The policy was introduced in September 2001 in the same areas as those targeted by the Excellence in Cities (EiC) programme. Its stated aims are to raise aspirations and participation in tertiary education of individuals aged between 14 and 19; a special focus is on the targeting of people with a disadvantaged background. In this paper we study the impact of Aimhigher: Excellence Challenge using information contained in the Labour Force Survey (LFS) for individuals aged between 16 and 20. Individuals in Local Education Authorities (LEA) where the programme was introduced are compared to individuals in LEAs where the policy was not implemented. The difference in average outcomes over time is compared for Aimhigher: Excellence Challenge LEAs and the 'comparison group' of LEAs outside the programme. This 'difference-in-differences' methodology allows us to distinguish the impact of the policy on outcomes from the (time-constant) effect of unobserved LEA attributes and trends common to both groups of LEAs. Yet, given that the policy was implemented in EiC areas, and that there may be complementarities between the two programmes, our results should not be interpreted as isolating the independent effect of the Aimhigher: Excellence Challenge programme. Overall, we find that the policy did not have a positive and statistically significant effect on further/higher education participation rates (and educational attainments) for young individuals. In fact, while point estimates of the impact of Aimhigher: Excellence Challenge suggest a positive impact of the policy on the fraction of young individuals studying beyond compulsory education, there is enormous variation around these estimates and they do not provide (statistically) reliable information on the effectiveness of the policy. This is due to the way in which the policy was implemented to cover only a few (very broadly defined) 'treatment' areas, which have to be compared to a similarly broadly defined comparison group. As a result, there is considerable variation in the outcome variables and only very large policy effects might be expected to result in statistical significance. However, our analysis gives stronger evidence of heterogeneity in the effects of the policy. Individuals from more disadvantaged backgrounds (for example, as indicated by those living on social housing or having unemployed fathers) have seemed to benefit more from the policy, compared to students from better-off backgrounds - their probability of entering post-compulsory education is significantly higher as a result of the policy. However, again, the estimates are relatively sensitive to specification and therefore should be interpreted with some caution.
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- Gibbons, Stephen & Silva, Olmo, 2008.
"Urban density and pupil attainment,"
Journal of Urban Economics,
Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 631-650, March.
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