New poll shows fewer young people think university education important

By agency reporter
August 16, 2018

The proportion of young people who think it’s important to go to university when they are old enough has fallen steadily over the past six years, according to new Ipsos MORI polling of young people published by the Sutton Trust on A-level results day (16 August 2018)

Three-quarters (75 per cent) of the 2,381 11 – 16 year olds surveyed this year think it is important to go to university to do well and get on in life, down from a high of 86 per cent in 2013 and 78 per cent in 2017. A similar proportion felt that having connections was crucial, with 77 per cent saying that ‘knowing the right people’ was important for success in life.

Despite this, 77 per cent think they are likely to go on to university after school. Less than a third (32 per cent) of the young people polled said that they were ‘very likely’ to go into higher education, down from a high of 41 per cent in 2009), while 45 per cent said it was ‘fairly likely’ they would do so.

The polling highlights how university aspirations differ by gender and by social background. Disadvantaged pupils are less like likely than their peers to believe that they are likely to go into higher education (67 per cent vs 79 per cent) while girls are more likely than boys to expect to enter higher education (81 per cent  vs 73 per cent).

In reality, a third of 18 and 19 year-olds will go on to Higher Education in England and Wales, whilst 49 per cent of young adults do so by the age of 30. But this aspirations barometer, monitored by the Sutton Trust since 2003, is an important indicator of 11-16 year olds expectations of going to university.

Today’s polling also finds that nearly half (46 per cent) of young people who are likely to go to university are worried about the cost of higher education. Money worries are particularly pronounced for young people from the least affluent families (58 per cent compared with 41 per cent in ‘high affluence’ households), and those in single parent households (52 per cent compared with 44 per cent for two-parent households).

Among pupils who are likely to go into higher education, or are not yet sure and are worried about the cost of higher education, the most common financial worry is about tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year (38 per cent). Having to repay student loans for up to 30 years is the second most common concern at 24 per cent, while 16 per cent cited the cost of living as a student.

Of all the young people who said it was unlikely they would go into higher education, the most common set of reasons – given by over half (58 per cent) of those across England and Wales who are unlikely to attend – was that they do not like the idea / do not enjoy learning or studying.  A financial reason was cited by 44 per cent, while 35  per cent do not think they need to go to university to get the job they would like. Recent Sutton Trust polling has highlighted increased interest among young people in undertaking an apprenticeship, at 64 per cent, up from 55 per cent in 2014.

To make sure that the cost of going to university is not a barrier to anyone, the Sutton Trust is calling on the Government to restore maintenance grants and review the case for means-testing tuition fees, ensuring that the cost of university reflects the financial circumstances of young people.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today: “It’s no surprise that there has been a fall in the proportion of young people who think it’s important to go into Higher Education. Young people face a dilemma. If they go on to university they incur debts of over £50,000 and will be paying back their loans well into middle age. And in a number of cases they end up with degrees that don’t get them into graduate jobs. On the other hand, degree-level apprenticeships are almost non-existent with less than 10,000 available each year compared with over 300,000 university places. There is effectively no viable alternative to university.”

“That is why the Sutton Trust has mounted a campaign to dramatically increase the number of degree-level apprenticeships by working with government, for-profit and not-for profit organisations and universities.”

* Read the Ipsos MORI polling here and the Sutton Trust Apprenticeship Polling here

* The Sutton Trust


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