Invisible Rules: Social Mobility, Low Income and the Role of Further and Higher Education

Since the late 1990s successive UK governments have sought to expand the numbers of young adults in continuing education, with a specific emphasis on Higher Education (HE). The explicit purpose of these policies has been to create a highly educated workforce that would support the emerging ‘knowledge economy’ (Christie, 2007). In part this expansion was to see HE opened out and extended to social groups that hitherto were under-represented in our universities.

Widening participation in HE also served a further purpose in relation to social mobility. The development of human capital, in the guise of education, skills and qualifications, is now the key mechanism through which pathways from poverty are to be created and broader patterns of social mobility secured. Within this policy paradigm individuals were to become the authors of their own destinies; with the removal of the old ‘barriers’ to HE and life-long learning, individuals are free to develop their own human capital to transcend the social settings into which they were born. 


This research sought to understand the interplay between poverty and capital formation, and how this interaction potentially interrupts social mobility. Read the report.

Principal investigators:

Dr Simon Pemberton

Dr Rachel Humphris

Funder: Walcot Foundation