Is ‘first in family’ a good indicator for widening university participation?
This paper asks whether ‘first in family’ (FiF) to attend university is a good marker of disadvantage in the context of the Widening Participation (WP) agenda in the UK. Currently, 15 of the 24 Russell Group universities use FiF as an indicator for Widening Participation, but very little is known about this indicator’s properties and how it overlaps with other indicators of disadvantage. We use Next Steps (formerly the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England, LSYPE) linked to administrative data, the National Pupil Database (NPD), to provide the first comprehensive analysis of the FiF measure and whether or not it captures additional disadvantage over and above other markers of socioeconomic disadvantage. We employ probability and classification models to look at the relative predictive power of being FiF compared to the other commonly used WP measures to predict university participation and graduation. Our preliminary results show that school-level factors are extremely important in predicting higher education success and the FiF measure does capture some additional disadvantage beyond traditional WP indicators. This research has policy implications for universities as they choose indicators for disadvantage in their admissions processes.