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Sonia Ilie


Assistant Professor

Fellow at Hughes Hall

Director of Studies (external) in Education at Fitzwilliam College

E-mail Address


PhD Education (University of Cambridge, Gates Scholar)

MPhil Educational Leadership and School Improvement (University of Cambridge)

BA Integrated Social Science (Jacobs University Bremen)

Membership of Professional Bodies/Associations

Society for Research into Higher Education

British Association for International and Comparative Education

European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction

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My research explores education inequality through the life course, looking at the socio-economic factors which shape children and young people's access to, and outcomes from, education. I focus particularly on fair access and equitable participation in higher education and how earlier educational experiences affect this. I investigate these issues primarily in relation to the English education system, and also in low- and lower-middle income contexts. My work builds evidence about what is effective in supporting fairer higher education access, widening participation to higher education, and better learning in schools, using large-scale experimental and quasi-experimental research designs. I am a quantitative researcher and evaluation expert, and routinely use experimental research designs, large-scale administrative data, and longitudinal surveys from a variety of sources. 

I was previously Research Leader in education at RAND Europe, where I co-led the organisation's portofolio of large-scale evaluations in education, exploring the effectiveness of established interventions to improve student learning and narrow socio-economic attainment gaps.

Academic Area/Links

I lead FairLab, the research lab for fair access and success in higher education. Our work builds evidence to understand and tackle inequality in school outcomes and higher education access, participation, and success. 

I am also a member of the REAL Centre

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Research Topics

  • Education access and learning inequalities
  • Fair access, widening participation, and outcomes in higher education
  • Evaluations of educational programmes and interventions
  • Quantitative methods in education

Prospective doctoral applications

I currently do not have any capacity for doctoral supervision starting 2022. 

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Postgraduate teaching and supervision

  • MPhil Education Globalisation and International Development
  • MPhil Educational Leadership and Improvement
  • MEd Transforming Practice
  • MPhil Research Methods Strand
  • University Social Science Research Methods Programme (advanced statistics module)


  • Education, Globalisation and International Development: economics of education approaches
  • Case Studies in Education and International Development: higher education access
  • Changing Landscapes of Childhood and Youth: inequalities and social mobility

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Selected Publications

Ilie, S., Rose, P., & Vignoles, A. (2021). Understanding higher education access: Inequalities and early learning in low and lower‐middle‐income countries. British Educational Research Journal 47(5): 1237-1258

Archer, R., Higton, J., Sibieta, L., Tahir, I., Trammell, L. T., Ilie, S., Vignoles, A., & Zhao, V. (2021). The road not taken: the drivers of course selection: The determinants and consequences of post-16 education choices. Sub-report for the Social Mobility Commission.

Dimova, S., Ilie, S., et al. (2020). The Nuffield Early Language Intervention: Evaluation Report. Education Endowment Foundation. Available here

Ilie, S., Vermunt, J.,& Brown, A. (2020). The role of reasoning ability in university students’ cognitive and metacognitive development. In Esterhazy, R. & Braun E., & Kordts-Freundinger, R. (Eds.). Higher Education learning. Berlin: Waxmann.

Vermunt, J. D., Ilie, S., & Vignoles, A. (2018). Building the foundations for measuring learning gain in higher education: a conceptual framework and measurement instrument. Higher Education Pedagogies, 3(1), 266-301.

Rose P., & Ilie, S. (2018). Who benefits from public spending on higher education in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa?. Compare: An International Journal of Comparative and International Education: 1-18.

Ilie, S., Sutherland, A. & Vignoles, A. (2017) Revisiting Free School Meal eligibility as a proxy for pupil socio-economic deprivation. British Educational Research Journal.doi:10.1002/berj.3260

Ilie, S., & Rose, P. (2016). Is equal access to higher education in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa achievable by 2030? Higher Education, 72: 435–455, doi: 10.1007/s10734-016-0039-3.

Hoskins, K. & Ilie, S. (2016). Mapping the UK widening participation agenda: contextual admissions and the geography of inequality. In Shah, M. & Whiteford, G. (Eds.) Bridges, Pathways and Transitions: International Innovations in Widening Participation. Chandos/Elsevier.