Education news

UK might have voted to stay in EU had more people gone to university

A study argues that an increase in the proportion of people in England and Wales accessing higher education could have changed the Brexit result

BRITAIN may have voted to remain in the EU if more people had a university education, new research suggests.

A study argues that an increase in the proportion of people in England and Wales accessing higher education could have changed the Brexit result.

It also concludes that the outcome of the 2016 referendum could have been different if turnout had been lower.

In Northern Ireland and Scotland, 55.8 and 62 per cent respectively voted to remain in the EU. More England and Wales voted to leave. This led to an overall proportion of 51.9 per cent backing Leave across Britain and Northern Ireland.

The study, by Dr Aihua Zhang, of Leicester University's mathematics department, analysed voting data from the EU referendum and statistics from the 2011 census, taking into account factors such as sex, income level, education, age and employment.

It found that around a 3 per cent increase in the proportion of British adults going on to study for a degree could have reversed the referendum result.

"Higher education is found to be the predominant factor dividing the nation, in particular in England and Wales, between Remain and Leave," the paper said.

"This analysis demonstrates highly significant evidence that university-educated British people tend to vote consistently across the UK for Remain.

"It can be speculated that, as much of the Leave campaign was characterised by emphasising detrimental factors (such as immigration or the recession of the economy), the university-educated voters seem to be more immune than those who do not have university education to this kind of campaign.

"The marginal effect of higher education on the referendum decision is much stronger than any other factors in England and Wales, where most Leave voters reside."

The study, published in World Development journal, also concluded that a decrease in turnout in England and Wales of around 7 per cent could have altered the outcome of last year's vote.

"The effect of voter turnout is one of the significant factors influencing the referendum result," Dr Zhang's paper said.

"The high overall turnout actually benefited Leave with a big proportion of the turnout being from enthusiastic Leave supporters, with a corresponding under-turnout of Remain supporters.

"This could indicate that the Leave campaign was more effective in mobilising their support base, but may also explain that regardless of the effectiveness of the campaigns, the Leave voters felt stronger about the factors affecting Leave than did the Remain supporters."

The Royal Irish Academy has expressed concern that Northern Ireland's universities will be impacted most by Brexit.

Academics responding to a survey overwhelmingly stated that they could see "no benefits or opportunities which could be gained for higher education and research in Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit".

Respondents from the Republic have outlined opportunities, noting that there may be potential to win more EU funding if UK researchers became ineligible to apply.

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