European higher education systems have been in a period of intensive quantitative expansion. Are the chances of young people from poorer backgrounds actually increasing, relative to increasing chances of young people from higher socioeconomic classes? Are both overall social mobility and relative social mobility of underrepresented classes increasing at the same rate? Social mobility in increasingly knowledge-driven economies is powerfully linked to equitable access to higher education. To study access, higher education research may increasingly use theoretical insights from the capabilities approach (CA). One of the major obstacles to develop further the CA in higher education research is the current construction of national and European datasets (underlying theoretical concepts leading to specific social research vocabulary in data-driven studies). If the CA is to be applied further to higher education, it has to highlight not only the need to measure different things but also the need to measure them differently. The paper presents strong support for the “education for all” agenda: as our analyses based on the EU-SILC (European Union Survey on Income and Living Conditions) data show, for young Europeans from poorer and low-educated backgrounds, the chances to get higher education credentials and to work in highly skilled white-collar occupations are drastically low. A major recommendation for EU strategies is to introduce more effective mechanisms to enable new routes of access to more differentiated higher education.

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