The education of young people is one of the great challenges facing European governments. Education is a crucial investment both for the country as a whole (ensuring economic competitiveness and social integration) and for the individuals concerned, in helping them to find skilled and secure employment. Whereas a considerable amount of comparative research has already been carried out on national differences in average levels of educational attainment, our focus is on educational inequality, that is, on variation around the average.
We aim to understand not only why some individuals have lower educational attainments but also why educational inequalities are greater in some European countries than in others. This project builds on the work of Shavit and Blossfeld (1993) who carried out a pioneering study of class inequalities in education in thirteen countries. However, their study focused primarily on class inequalities in education and was primarily descriptive. Moreover, their study was based on different national data sets in each country. Since Shavit and Blossfeld's day there has been the emergence of systematic cross-national data sets which permit much more rigorous cross-national research and will provide the main basis for our project. We shall draw extensively on the data collected for the Programme for International Student Assessment.
This will enable us to gain deeper understanding of the sources of national differences in educational inequality. We will supplement this with analyses of other recent cross-national datasets such as the European Community Household Panel Study and the European Social Survey. The project will make a substantial contribution to a key European policy area by drawing on best practice from the disciplines that have contributed to the study of social disadvantage, combining insights that can be derived from cross-national datasets and moving beyond description to the explanation of cross-national differences.
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