Levelling up: The role of education

16 June 2021


Reported by Camilla Faidutti, CSaP Policy Intern (April-July 2021)

As part of our ‘Levelling up’ series, organised in partnership with the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, Marco Felici (Research Assistant for the Many Dimensions of Well-being project at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy) was invited to present his research work on education and subjective well-being.

Mr Felici’s presentation focused on how education and subjective wellbeing relate to each other. Education is often associated with several positive outcomes, such as better employment prospects and financial resources, and opportunities for geographic and social mobility. These resources can help preserving one’s subjective wellbeing, by acting as a buffer against negative shocks.

Using data from the Community Life Survey for England between 2012 and 2017, Mr Felici studied how the association between life satisfaction and education changes across different levels of subjective wellbeing. His research looked separately at groups of individuals that reported low and high levels of life satisfaction. By focusing on those people reporting low levels of subjective wellbeing, that is a life satisfaction of below 5 on a scale from 0 to 10, his findings showed that having a degree is positively associated with life satisfaction. From a geographical perspective, his results indicated that in the sample of those with life satisfaction below 5, the areas with the lowest shares of degree holders and with the lowest levels of reported life satisfaction coincide with the areas classed as “deprived”, where high rates of unemployment persist. In comparison, better off areas have both higher shares of people with degrees and higher reported life satisfaction levels.

Case Studies from Individual and Community Gains in Higher Education:

Mr Felici suggested that the geographical gradient existing between education and subjective well-being could indicate that there is scope for policy action in terms of levelling-up. He supported this by presenting two examples on the role of higher education in relation to subjective well-being and levelling up. One example he shared was that of Brampton Manor Academy, a case which has illustrated how higher education could be a way to positively change the life trajectory of individuals. Brampton Manor Academy is a state school in Newham, an area of London with a high level of deprivation. This academy has in recent years secured more university offers at Oxbridge universities than Eton. In this instance, while offer holders will likely benefit from an individual gain, the outcome will unlikely help levelling-up the rest of Newham, especially in the short-term. The possibility of “brain-draining” places such as Newham cannot be excluded, Mr Felici noted, if the opportunities provided at the individual level are not combined with local development policies and levelling up strategies.

Meanwhile, an example of area-level and community gain from higher education is the soon-to-open Anglia Ruskin University Peterborough. The courses have been designed together with local businesses, providing inclusive higher education for the city and region. Such collaborations will ultimately favour local employment and increase the involvement with the local community.

Although Mr Felici’s research focused on the distinction between degree and non-degree holders, it is worth noting that other types of education exist which could contribute to positive social and economic outcomes. In a subsequent discussion, seminar attendees reflected on the relevance of also including other types of qualifications, such as technical and further education, as part of the metrics on education. In this respect, Mr Felici’s future research will focus on studying how subjective wellbeing evolves in the long-term, while also considering different types of education.

The 2021 CSaP ‘Levelling up’ Seminar Series aims to bring Policy Fellows from different departments together to discuss the challenges of addressing unequal economic performance within regions of the UK. This year's series is hosted in partnership with the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. This series will help to stimulate the policy debate around levelling up by exploring key areas such as the role of infrastructure, the importance of data and measurement, the relationship between trust, social capital and levelling up, and the impact of a transition to a net zero carbon economy on left-behind places. It will also look outside of the UK for examples of how other countries have managed regional inequalities. You can follow the Bennett Institutes blog series here.