Think differently

4 questions to Arnaud Dufays on the role of social relations in the motivation to pursue higher education

Arnaud Dufays , Associate Professor

In an article recently published in the Economics of Education Review, Arnaud Dufays, EDHEC Associate Professor, and his co-authors highlight the significant effect of one's social network on a student's willingness to pursue a university education.

Reading time :
13 Apr 2023

Why were you interested in the link between university enrolment and the influence of friendship circles?

Access to higher education is not equal. There are many factors that influence this access (parents' education, community, network of friends, ...). In this academic paper, Vincent Boucher (Univ. Laval), Antoine Dedewanou (Carleton Univ.) and I wanted to analyse the influence of a high school student's network of friends on his or her willingness to pursue a university degree. This inevitably has an effect on his future. It is therefore interesting to understand how the beliefs associated with this decision are created and anchored in him so that they can be positively modified.


How do your findings complement existing research?

Our results corroborate the findings of the existing literature by showing a significant effect of social network on a student's willingness to pursue a university education, even after controlling for individual characteristics such as grades and preferences. These results suggest that schools can play a crucial role in raising adolescents' awareness and thus positively influence their beliefs on the subject.


What does your work tell us about the formation of choices for adolescents?

The influence of relationships within the school opens the door to an outreach policy targeting the most influential students. However, our study, based on US data, suggests that this approach may have limited impact on students' beliefs. Indeed, our results show that there is considerable heterogeneity in adolescents' receptivity to the influence of their peer group. Some students are not very susceptible to influence, while others are very receptive to the opinions of those around them. A more nuanced approach is therefore needed to better understand the mechanisms underlying this heterogeneity.


What are the possible implications of your research for public intervention?

The existence of this heterogeneity calls into question the effectiveness of targeted outreach to certain students in the school. We attempted to identify the characteristics of the most suggestible students in order to raise awareness, but unfortunately no observable characteristics such as gender, age or academic achievement could be identified as reliable predictors. These results highlight the importance of thinking more broadly about the extent and source of this heterogeneity. These new questions, once resolved, will allow for more effective strategies to be developed in the future to positively influence young people's views on education.


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