Does education really change attitudes towards minorities?

  • Date

    Thu 22 Sep 22

headshot of victoria Donnaloja

The assumption that education leads to more liberal attitudes will be put under the spotlight as part of a new research project at the University of Essex.

Now researchers have received funding to explore how education changes attitudes, to identify the broader implications of education policy and educational inequalities.

Renee Luthra, Professor of Sociology and Director of the University’s Centre for Migration Studies, will mentor Vicky Donnaloja, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow.

The three-year project will dig deep to understand the link between education and attitudes, to see if the assumption that education leads to more liberal attitudes really holds up.

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, Dr Donnaloja’s research will look back over time to analyse how education shapes moral positions and if this has changed over the years. She will use polling data, surveys and original data to test what is being claimed now. The findings will offer essential insights for education and immigration policy.

Dr Donnaloja said: “Recent studies on attitudes towards immigrants and ethnic minorities indicate that people with higher qualifications hold more positive attitudes than the lower educated. Given the education expansion in the West, whereby individuals attain increasingly higher qualifications, some have optimistically viewed education as a panacea for racism, prejudice and hostility towards ethnic minorities more generally.

“However, we currently don’t know enough about the relationship between education and attitudes. The claim that higher levels of education will increasingly translate into positive social change through generations of social progress through generations remains an assumption. This research will dig deeper to identify what mechanisms are at play. The project will shine a light into the broader implications of education policy and educational inequalities for society. It will also lead to better understanding of what drives social change.”

The project - Explaining the education gap in attitudes towards minorities - will study the reasons why education matters for attitude formation: whether higher education cultivates tolerance as a core value, merely teaches what attitudes are socially acceptable and to what extent education grants a competitive advantage over the rest of the population. The project will reveal which of these form the basis for the difference in attitudes towards minority ethnic communities.

The research findings will add to the body of research within the Centre for Migration Studies which is an umbrella for a wide range of research that examines the causes and consequences of the movement of people across international borders, addressing issues such as human rights, immigration policies, forced migration, education, citizenship, political engagement, social cohesion, human trafficking, race ethnicity and identity.