Pathways to higher education for first and second generation immigrants in France, Switzerland and Canada: how educational tracks and aspirations matter

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This seminar was presented by Jake Murdoch, Institute for Research in the Sociology and Economics of Education (IREDU) of the University of Bourgogne, Dijon France. Abstract Despite their different histories as countries of immigration (Crul et al., 2012), Switzerland, France and Canada all have a sizeable immigrant population, some of which do experience obstacles in their educational and professional careers. However, both access rates of immigrant students as well as institutional routes to higher education vary remarkably between the three countries. On the one hand, France and Switzerland offer both academic and vocational routes to higher education, whereas academic routes prevail in Canada. On the other hand, immigrant students are underrepresented in Swiss and French higher education, while they generally seem to be much more successful in Canada. In this presentation we wish to clarify not only if, but also how through which institutional settings higher education is accessed by students from vulnerable immigrant groups. Do immigrant youths have the same educational opportunities and pathways to higher education in the three countries as native youths, according to their aspirations? We are primarily interested in the possible reinforcement or reduction of educational inequalities arising from country-specific educational policies designed to increase the enrolment in tertiary education, particularly the flow from upper-secondary vocational educational tracks to higher tertiary ones. We use panel data from France (DEPP), Switzerland (TREE) and Canada (YITS) to answer our research question. Applying multinomial logistic regression models, we analyse the accessibility of different institutional pathways to higher education while taking into account the different characteristics of the students, focusing on vulnerable immigrant groups in each country. Our results show that across the three countries, 1st and 2nd generation Northern African youths in France, Turkish or former Yugoslavian youths in Switzerland and Latino and Caribbean youths in Canada are respectively underrepresented in higher education. These differences are greatly reduced and even disappear when the socioeconomic background and educational performance in secondary school is controlled for. This said, in France the democratization of educational system, including the development of the vocational baccalauréat, has enabled more youths of immigrant background to access higher education, albeit unwillingly for them, via the non-selective university sector. In Switzerland and Canada in turn, there is more cooling down and down-streaming of their educational aspirations towards non tertiary and more labour market oriented pathways.
Period27 Feb 2014
Event typeConference
LocationEdinburgh, United KingdomShow on map


  • quantitative methods
  • knowledge exchange