4 February 2021

New unit at UCPH to put focus on research into children and education


New funding from the Ministry of Children and Education will enable researchers from across the Faculty of Social Sciences to strengthen quantitative research into how parent background and special measures against inequality impact children’s education and their social mobility.

Photo: Colourbox
Photo: Colourbox

Over the next four years, the Department of Economics, the Department of Sociology and the Copenhagen Center for Social Data Science will house a new, cross-disciplinary research unit, UDDanKvant, which together with the Ministry of Children and Education will strengthen quantitative research into children and education in Denmark.

The Ministry of Children and Education has initiated the new unit, which the ministry will support with DKK 7.5 million towards the autumn of 2024. In addition, self-financing and external funding will ensure that the new unit has a base of eight experienced researchers as well as two PhD students and two postdocs.

The new research unit will focus specifically on the factors that affect children and youth’s path through the educational system. It will launch several subprojects, which will use advanced statistical and econometric models to uncover why some children do better than others. The ultimate goal is to provide children with better education regardless of their background.

“We look forward to working together with the Ministry of Children and Education,” says Professor Mette Ejrnæs from the Department of Economics, who will be the Day-to-Day Manager of UDDanKvant.

“A prerequisite for conducting high-quality, quantitative research into children and education is access to high-quality data, detailed knowledge of the area, including political measures, and strong quantitative competences. The ministry has detailed knowledge of data and their own measures, whereas the researchers affiliated with the unit can provide knowledge of the latest quantitative research methods. Together, this gives us a unique opportunity to create new knowledge of the area,” she says.

The Ministry of Children and Education has chosen to base the new research environment at the University of Copenhagen following a round of applications where the ministry was looking for a unit that could help support policy development as well as local and national decision-making in the area of children and education. Among other things, UDDanKvant will be tasked with providing consultancy and skill development with regard to the ministry’s own analysis and knowledge efforts as well as holding conferences and courses.

Focus on inequality and social mobility

Over the next four years, the research unit will launch no less than nine subprojects, which from various angles will study the significance of parent background and explore the many choices and circumstances that may affect children and youth’s education throughout life.

Even though we often boast of our great social equality, there are limits to social mobility in Denmark.

Kristian Bernt Karlson

Social inheritance and the ability to break with it will run as a red thread throughout the subprojects. One example is a study to be conducted by Associate Professor Kristian Bernt Karlson and Professor Mads Meier Jæger from the Department of Sociology.

Based on data from Statistics Denmark, the project will uncover how much better a student from a socioeconomically disadvantaged family must do in school to have the same chances as more privileged children of getting a youth education or a higher education.

“Even though we often boast of our great social equality, there are limits to social mobility in Denmark. We therefore wish to determine to which extent academic qualifications can help break the social inheritance today. Here records from Statistics Denmark offer a unique opportunity to study entire year groups and look at the development over time,” says Kristian Bernt Karlson.

Other subprojects will answer questions like:

  • How does starting in nursery early affect the child’s path through the educational system?
  • What is the effect of extra resources for day care facilities in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods?
  • How does the parents’ choice of school affect the child’s opportunities later in life?
  • And how does mental illness and vulnerability among youth affect their performance in youth education programmes?

Using new methods

The Copenhagen Center for Social Data Science (SODAS) will play a special role in using new forms of machine learning (artificial intelligence) and big data to measure the effect of interventions and to discover causalities within education, which more classical methods have difficulties uncovering.

“Among other things, we want to determine how new types of data from e.g. teaching apps can help us identify factors that affect students’ learning. And by also using new tools that combine data science and econometrics, we will be able to provide more targeted recommendations regarding future initiatives,” explains Assistant Professor Andreas Bjerre-Nielsen from SODAS.

The research unit will commence work this fall and has received funding up until the end of 2024.