While education and training supports well-being and prosperity through higher employment, income and wealth, research from around the world has also found that education is a powerful predictor of civic participation or engagement and is associated with higher levels of ‘social capital’.
Education and training helps individuals to develop their skills and knowledge and increase self-confidence. Through education, individuals develop their capacity to question and appraise information effectively, communicate ideas, interact with others and see things from different perspectives. The more education systems reflect these capabilities, the more these types of benefits can be observed. Consequently, more educated people are more likely to feel able to participate in the community and this can build trust and tolerance of other people and public institutions. In aggregate, these so-called non-market social benefits can lead to increased democratisation, political stability and social cohesion.,
The closest measure of civic engagement we have is participation in community, social or political groups. Consistent with Bynner et al. (2003), our results show that educational attainment is positively associated with all forms of civic engagement (Figure 1). Compared with lower levels, people with higher levels of educational attainment can be two to three times more likely to be involved in a community, social or political group. These trends hold after controlling for a wide range of potential confounding factors such as age, employment, gender, country of birth, and where people live (see Data and Methodology). Higher levels of educational attainment are also positively but weakly associated with more people reporting ‘feeling able to have say on important issues within the general community’ either all of the time or most of the time.
Trust in people and institutions and tolerance to multi-cultural society
According to Campbell (2006), institutional and interpersonal trust is driven by both individual attainment and exposure to the educational or institutional environment. Education institutions trigger a positive feedback process, leading to a higher level of interpersonal- and institutional-trust. Consistent with other developed countries, our results show evidence of positive relationships between higher levels of educational attainment and trust in society and its institutions (Figure 2). Most people reported high or very high levels of trust in police (data not shown) with a weakly positive relationship with educational attainment. Reported tolerance to multicultural society also improves dramatically with educational attainment increasing from 31 to 70 per cent for Year 11 and below to Postgraduates, respectively.