Compensatory or multiplicative advantage? Parental resources, school achievement and access to higher education in Finland

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This research finds that even in Finland, enrolling in higher education depends on students’ school performance and their parents’ education.

The study uses register data from Finland, where students take entrance exams for higher education and where there are both universities and polytechnics, to look at how parental resources – such as education – can help.

It finds that those students whose parents have higher-level educational qualifications are more likely to enrol in higher education despite their previous school performance. Moreover, there were differences between higher education institutions. Students with good grades at school were more likely to go to university if their parents had done so too. Students with similar grades but whose parents had lower education were more likely to enrol in polytechnics.

Students with lower grades but with highly-educated parents were likely to enrol in polytechnics. But students with lower grades and less-educated parents were not likely to get into higher education at all.

This indicates that highly-educated parents’ guidance can compensate for the students’ low grades in applying to polytechnics. Also, these results indicate that in accessing university parents’ high education boosts especially well-performing students.

The authors suggest these results would be relevant to other systems where higher education is divided into elite and less selective universities. Finland would provide a useful basis for further study as its higher education entry system is in the transition from being exam-based to being based on prior attainment.