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The diversity, selectivity and performance of university students in economic disciplines in Sweden, 2007–2016.

Working paper
Authors Stefan Öberg
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Economy and Society, Economic History
Language en
Keywords widening participation, widening participation research, socioeconomic background, selectivity, student diversity, bredded rekrytering, breddat deltagande, social bakgrund, selektivitet, heterogena studentgrupper
Subject categories Educational Sciences


Background The Swedish Ministry of Education and Research in 2017 proposed an update to the Higher Education Act which increased the responsibility of universities to promote diversity among students. There is a widespread perception in academia that widening participation can pose a challenge to the quality of the education and lead to worse performances of students. I will investigate the empirical support for this perception for the case of students in economic disciplines in Sweden, 2007–2016. Methods Because my study relies on published, aggregate statistics I cannot establish any causal effects from selectivity in admission on student diversity or achievements. What I can do is to use graphical methods and regression analyses to analyze the cross-sectional variation across universities and the longitudinal variation in a panel of universities over time. I have tried to limit my analyses to include only students in economic disciplines to increase the comparability across universities. Findings There are substantive differences across universities in the characteristics and background of students. None of the largest universities are among the most diverse regarding the educational careers of students or the least selective regarding the socioeconomic background of the students. There is much more variation between the smaller, regional universities. Students in economic disciplines in Sweden seem to have become less diverse in regard to age, behavior and immigrant background during the last decade. The selectivity of the students in the admittance process has increased. I find tentative support for a positive association between the degree selectivity of students and performance among students in economic disciplines in both the cross-sectional and the longitudinal analyses. Interpretation This study can not prove any link between the trends mentioned above, but my results are not refuting the perception that widening participation in higher education can lead to less prior knowledge and worse performance of students. My results are based on students in economic disciplines. The results are not conclusive, but show that the question is worth further investigation, for example, through studies of students in other disciplines.

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