Things we know and don't know about the Wider Benefits of Higher Education: A review of the recent literature

October 2013

Things we know and don't know about the wider benefits of higher education

This literature review starts from an awareness that besides the economic benefits of higher education at both the individual (e.g. “graduate premium” in the form of higher wages) and the aggregate level (e.g. contribution to economic growth), there is also a variety of wider benefits that do not relate directly to the economic sphere but which nevertheless may have significant impacts at the individual and societal levels.

Reflecting the terms of reference for the literature review, the impacts which this review focuses on are primarily those concerned with the wider impacts of higher education upon students (i.e. ‘private non-monetary benefits to the individual and family’) and the impact that higher education has via students upon the wider society (‘how impacts on students can also affect others’). It needs to be acknowledged at the outset, however, that higher education institutions have impacts on the wider society through a whole range of functions and interactions. The impacts occur through a range of routes, reflecting higher education’s main functions of education, research and knowledge transfer.

While this report focuses mainly on the first of these, it is important to acknowledge this wider picture. The aim of this literature review is therefore to collect evidence from the academic and policy literature on the wider benefits to individuals and society which stem from higher education, mainly through its students and graduates but also through its functions of research and knowledge transfer.