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Sonia Ilie


University Lecturer

Research Fellow at Hughes Hall

Director of Studies (external) in Education at Fitzwilliam College and Jesus 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 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

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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

I welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students interested in predominantly quantitative research on the above topics.

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Postgraduate teaching and supervision

  • MPhil Education Globalisation and International Development
  • MPhil Educational Leadership and Improvement
  • MPhil Knowledge Power and Politics in Education
  • MEd Transforming Practice
  • MPhil Research Methods Strand
  • University Social Science Research Methods Programme (advanced statistics module)
  • Course coordinator for the Research Methods Top-Up practitioner professional development (PPD) course


  • 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

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.

Gronn, P., Ilie, S. & Vignoles, A. (2016) The Political Economy of Leadership. In Bogotch, I., & Waite, D. (Eds.) The International Handbook of Educational Leadership. Wiley Blackwell.

Ilie, S. (2016). Educational leadership in Romanian high schools: perspectives from teachers and principals. In Sharpes, D. (Ed.) Handbook of Comparative and International Studies in Education. Wiley Blackwell.