ERC grant for major comparative attitudes survey

Under a European Research Council programme, Professor Marius R Busemeyer of the University of Konstanz in Germany has received €1.5 million (US$2 million) to conduct a survey in eight countries to map out citizens’ attitudes to education and its connection to the welfare state.

The countries are Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK. The survey will include more than 6,000 respondents and aims to deliver new insights into national differences in peoples’ attitudes, as a precondition for education reforms.

Busemeyer found that the extensive literature on attitudes towards the welfare state had so far largely neglected the study of attitudes towards education policies. He also claimed that the study of popular attitudes has important ramifications for welfare state reforms.

“It might well be”, he argued, “that citizens support the expansion of education on the abstract level, but when pressed to choose, prefer to maintain existing levels of spending on social transfers instead of expanding human capital investments, whose benefits will materialise in the distant future”.

There is currently a lack, in the study of education, of perspectives from political science and in comparative welfare state research, Busemeyer contended. Scholars are less interested in studying the effects of policies, but strive to explain why certain policies are adopted in one country and not in another and hence why differences between countries and changes over time are observed.

A special focus of the study will be on academic versus vocational education, with the latter continuing to be a popular educational choice for a majority of young people in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

“The crucial question is if this mirrors the actual preferences of individuals or whether their choices reflect the institutional constraints of established educational systems,” Busemeyer said.

The survey will contain 30 different items, another 20 demographic and control variables and a sample 800 respondents in each of the eight countries.

The project will consult with several European associations, and the datasets will be made available to the scientific community after the completion of the project.