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Russian panel study of trajectories in education and careers (8th wave)

Priority areas of development: sociology
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

Goal of research

To analyze educational choice in the context of socio-economic and cultural inequality in modern Russia


“Trajectories in Education and Careers” is a cohort panel longitudinal study, complemented by a sub-programme of qualitative interviews “Tracer Atom”. Methods of data collection include questionnaire based survey and in-depth interviews. In 2019 the eighth wave of the national (all-Russian) panel and the fourth wave of in-depth qualitative interviews on the sub-sample of the participants of the main 

Empirical base of research

Empirical base of research is comprised of quantitative and qualitative data.

Quantitative data are collected  in the national panel of the longitudinal study “Trajectories in Education and Careers” (TrEC). Initial survey sample consisted of five thousands eighth graders from 42 regions of Russian Federation, who participated in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2011. The TrEC survey is conducted annually since then. By 2019 eight waves of the study were conducted. A questionnaire of each wave includes questions about young people’s educational trajectories, work experience, family structure, place of living, plans for the future. Each questionnaire also includes questions offered by the project partners who are interested in using the data in their research.

Qualitative data are collected as part of the sub-programme “Tracer Atom”. It is a longitudinal study on the sub-sample of TrEC participants (111 people), who take part in the in-depth interviews. Eight regions were picked to collect data: Krasnoyarskiy kray, Krasnodarskiy kray, Kaluzhskaya oblast, Sverdlovskaya oblast, Amurskaya oblast, the Republic of Tatarstan, Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. By the first wave of interviews in 2013 informants studied at school or vocational education institutions. “Tracer Atom” study is conducted bi-annually. By 2019 four waves were carried out.

Results of research

Results of the research are important for theory, methodology and empirical knowledge.

In theorywe developed an approach to study mechanisms of educational choice using cultural factors and narrative theory. According to this approach the choice is seen as a process unfolding in time, complemented by an individual educational history. Therefore researchers can look at competing choice narratives, at how narratives and actions are connected. Subsequent work in this direction includes identification of narrative structures elements using qualitative interview data and developing methodology of studying narrative structures in quantitative survey.

In methodology

  • The eighth wave of the TrEC national panel was conducted. The participants were at the time finishing studies at master programmes and/or entering labour market. Response rate in the eighth wave is 76% of the initial sample – it holds on the level of the previous wave (77%), which can be considered an evidence of effective data collection methodology. The main method of data collection is still an online-survey, complimented by an individual work of interviewers on recruiting each participant: an absolute majority of respondents (98%) fill in the questionnaire online (Computer Assisted Web Interview) as it was in the previous waves. Other methods include interviewing by phone (2%) and an independent filling in the questionnaire without an interviewer (3 persons).

  • The fourth wave of qualitative interviews was conducted (“Tracer Atom” sub-programme). New protocols of making interviews and data storage were developed, methodology of data collection, documentation and storage was improved. The most convenient time for making interviews proved to be during weekends, as the majority of participants work. A number of skype-interviews increased because of the young people’s employment and geographical mobility. Social networks are becoming less useful for recruiting participants in comparison with messengers.

  • New methods of data analysis were used: e.g. a tree of classification was built by the CHAID method (Chi-square Automatic Interaction Detection). We also used a mixed-methods strategy of data analysis in the study of educational and career aspirations: quantitative (several survey waves) and qualitative data (in-depth interviews) were analyzed to establish a complex picture of the subject.

In getting new empirical knowledge

  • Educational aspirations were explored from the perspective of socio-economic, territory, school and individual characteristics. Results from other longitudinal studies confirm the importance of studying career and educational aspirations because of their role in shaping educational choice and further trajectories. According to our results, young people’s educational aspirations are relatively high: more than a half of the participants would like to get higher education. There is a significant connection of aspirations and academic achievement, urbanization level of the place of living, family socio-economic background. We showed that socio-economic and geographical inequality are reproduced even on the level of aspirations and later are perpetuated in educational choices. Longitudinal data made it possible to explore the dynamics of aspirations and their future realization. A majority of the participants achieved their plans. A particular attention should be paid to a group of people who didn’t initially plan for higher education (according to the data of the second wave) but by the time of the seventh wave changed their minds and raised aspirations (45%).

  • Factors of uncertainty of educational and career aspirations were revealed. Among school students with lower grades there are more people who are uncertain about their plans after the ninth grade and about the highest level of education they would like to get. Uncertain plans for three years after graduation from school are common for lower performing students from families with lower socio-economic background; boys are more often uncertain than girls. Uncertainty of educational plans rises over time: from 5% among 17-18 year olds to 20% 5 years later. This increase is particularly noticeable among those who’ve chosen vocational education after the 9th grade. We’ve also got evidence that uncertainty of career aspirations was higher than uncertainty of educational aspirations.

Several sources of uncertainty were distinguished on the interview data: contradictions between children’s and parents’ attitudes, lack of self-confidence, lack of capacity to aspire and skills for planning and setting goals in education and career, focusing on the other life spheres like family, sports etc. instead.

  • Homogeneous groups of educational trajectories from the perspective of socio-economic family background and individual students’ characteristics are distinguished with the tree of classification method. It is shown that the main factor defining educational trajectory is academic achievement, followed by the place of living for well-performing students and socio-economic family background for low-performing students.

Level of implementation,  recommendations on implementation or outcomes of the implementation of the results

On the basis of literature analysis and empirical results several principles and approaches to building a career guidance system in modern Russia are developed. Recommendations are offered for the development of career guidance system for Russian school students. When building a modern career guidance system it has to be taken into account that educational and career trajectories today are individualized and de-standardized, careers are meaningfully constructed and contextualized, choice has to be seen as a process. It is important to consider individuals’ self-efficacy and cultural relevance of the career development system’s concepts to its users. Educational and career aspirations need to be raised, and it is particularly important to work with less privileged groups of young people who often lack an access to career guidance services they need.


Kurakin D., Binder W. Biography and Form of Life. Toward a Cultural Analysis of Narrative Interviews // Sociologia. 2019. Vol. 51. No. 6. P. 563-583. doi