Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Post 16 Education Choices in Rural Areas - RE0228

This project will use data from the Youth Cohort Study to document and explain the differences in post-compulsory education staying-on rates between rural and urban areas, where type of area will be classified according to the 8 point definition of rural and urban areas based on the rural urban definition. The raw difference in staying-on rates between areas will be compared to the difference when we control for, or hold constant, a range of characteristics of the areas and the young people who live in them. This latter, conditional, difference in staying-on rates will be found by estimating multivariate econometric equations. In this way, the raw difference can be decomposed into the proportion due to differences in characteristics and the proportion due to different behaviours of individuals in different types of area. The characteristics that we will consider include prior attainment at GCSE level, family socio-economic background, the availability of local education institutions and the state of local labour markets, as well as other standard controls such as gender and ethnicity.
Involvement in learning and the acquisition of skills are crucial for the success and prosperity of the nation, and the individual members of the population. In a world economy characterised by ever-advancing technological growth, and increased competition from emerging economies such as China and India, the continued development and acquisition of higher level skills is crucial for the UK to improve, or even maintain, its global position. At the level of the individual, the skills and qualifications acquired by an individual are strongly associated with economic success such as higher wages and better employment prospects . Any regional disparity in skills and qualifications acquisition is therefore important for at least two reasons. First, such disparity would translate into differences in the economic outcomes just mentioned across regions, and second, it could create skills surpluses and shortages in particular areas. It is therefore important to document any differences in skills and qualifications across areas, with the ultimate aim of explaining and then removing such differences. The post-16 staying-on decision is of great importance, given the rise in employment likelihood and, in particular, wages associated with qualifications above Level 2 (i.e. above GCSEs or equivalent) . The Leitch report argues that the balance of the UK’s stock of intermediate level skills must switch from Level 2 to Level 3, and calls for 1.9 million additional Level 3 attainments by 2020. This project will determine whether the staying-on decision is affected by region of residence.
The particular focus of the project will be on documenting and explaining urban-rural differences in staying-on rates. The first step is to define urban and rural areas. A straightforward dichotomous split may prove too simple, and allowance should be made for the fact that ‘some rural areas are more rural than others’. We plan to use the 6 point definition of rural areas based on local authority classifications available on Defra’s website , namely ‘Major Urban’, ‘Large Urban’, ‘Other Urban’, ‘Significant Rural’, ‘Rural – 50’ and ‘Rural – 80’.
As well as documenting the post-16 staying-on rate in each type of area, the more challenging aspect of the project will be to explain such differences. The economic theory of human capital acquisition suggests that an individual’s decision to participate in post-compulsory education is an investment decision, which compares the current costs of undertaking the education (for example tuition costs, travel costs, foregone earnings) to the expected future stream of benefits such as higher wages and better job prospects. Thus, any factor that affects an individual’s expected costs or benefits can also be expected to influence whether or not the individual participates in post-16 education. Furthermore, if such factors occur unevenly across rural and urban areas, then there is the potential for post-16 participation rates to differ between such areas. In addition to the economists’ theories of costs and benefits, we should also consider more sociological theories that describe education as an aspirational good, and so subject to the aspirations of the individuals involved.
Given the above, we can group the potential explanations of differences in staying-on rates between rural and urban areas into two types. The first is that the characteristics of individuals living in rural and urban areas differ, and it is these differences in characteristics that explain their varying likelihoods of staying-on post-16. Previous research has shown that prior success in GCSE results, and socio-economic (family) background, are amongst the key determinants of the staying-on likelihood . Relating these factors back to the human capital investment theory of costs and benefits, it can be argued that the cost of further study will be lower for those with better GCSE results (in terms of required investment in books, tutors and the psychological costs of having to study), while the probability of success in further study will be higher, and so the likelihood of obtaining the future rewards less uncertain. Similarly, the socio-economic background of the family can influence the staying-on decision, since the pressure to work rather than engage in further study will be lower in wealthier families. In addition, individuals’ aspirations to study may be influenced by their parents’ own educational attainment or current occupational status, again leading to the prediction of a higher likelihood of post-compulsory participation amongst children from wealthier backgrounds. Thus, if young people in rural areas have, say, higher levels of GCSE attainment, and come from, on average, wealthier families, than young people in urban areas, then this might at least partly explain any differences in their post-16 staying-on rates.
The second set of reasons for differences in staying-on rates between regions refers to characteristics of the regions themselves, such that, even if the characteristics of individuals living in urban and rural areas were the same, their staying-on rates may still differ. Possible differences in characteristics of regions that might be relevant to the staying-on decision include the local availability of institutions of post-secondary education (such as colleges of Further Education), and the state of local labour markets and the availability of job opportunities. Again, these can be related to the costs and benefits of the education investment decision. If individuals have further to travel to their nearest suitable institute of Further Education (which obviously could be more likely in rural areas) then the costs of undertaking that education will be higher, and the likelihood of participating lower. Also, the availability of local job opportunities (which may be scarcer in rural areas) can affect both the costs of Further Education participation in terms of foregone income opportunities, as well as the potential future benefits in terms of a future income stream from employment.
Project Documents
• Final Report : Post 16 Education in Rural Areas   (1031k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2008

To: 2009

Cost: £23,952
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University - Sheffield
Rural Issues              
Fields of Study
Rural Affairs