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Brexit caused by low levels of education, study finds

A slight increase in higher education could have kept Britain in the EU

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Monday 07 August 2017 18:53 BST
Access to higher education was the 'predominant factor' in how people voted in the referendum
Access to higher education was the 'predominant factor' in how people voted in the referendum (AFP)

Britain would have likely voted to remain in the European Union were its population educated to a slightly higher level, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Leicester say that had just 3 per cent more of the population gone to university, the UK would probably not be leaving the EU.

The researchers looked at reasons why people voted Leave and found that whether someone had been to university or accessed other higher education was the “predominant factor” in how they voted.

The paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal World Development, applied a multivariate regression analysis and logit model to areas of the country to identify why people voted the way they did.

The level of higher education in an area was far more important than age, gender, the number of immigrants, or income in predicting the way an area voted, the researchers found.

Age and gender were both significant but not as important as education level, the researchers found. Income and number of immigrants in an area were not found to be a significant factor in how people voted.

The researchers also found that a lower rate of turnout – by just 7 per cent – would also likely have changed the result to Remain.

The last Labour government set a target of half of young people accessing higher education and there has been a large expansion in numbers in recent decades. Universities UK says it expected the number of people in employment with higher education qualifications to have risen from 28.7 per cent in 2002 to 51.3 per cent in 2022

Dr Aihua Zhang, from the University of Leicester’s Department of Mathematics, said: “The EU referendum raised significant debate and speculation of the intention of the electorate and its motivations in voting. Much of this debate was informed by simple data analysis examining individual factors, in isolation, and using opinion polling data.

“This, in the case of the EU referendum where multiple factors influence the decision simultaneously, failed to predict the eventual outcome. On June 23rd 2016, Britain’s vote to leave the EU came as a surprise to most observers, with a bigger voter turnout – 72.2 per cent – than that of any UK general election in the past decade.”

British voters voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the EU in a referendum held in June 2016.

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