New polling indicates young people's uncertainty about the value of university

By agency reporter
August 16, 2019

Young people think that knowing the right people and being confident are more important for getting on in life than going to university, according to new Ipsos MORI polling published by the Sutton Trust.

Out of more than 2,000 11-16-year olds surveyed this year, almost nine out of 10 (85 per cent) said it is important to be confident to do well and get on in life. Three quarters felt that having connections was crucial, with 75 per cent saying that ‘knowing the right people’ is important for success in life.

However, just under two-thirds (65 per cent) said they think it is important to go to university. This has fallen from a high of 86 per cent in 2013, with the proportion who feel that going to university is not important rising from 11 per cent in 2013 to 20 per cent in 2019.

The polling highlights how perceptions of the importance of university differ by social and ethnic background. University was deemed less important for young people from the least affluent families (61 per cent compared with 67 per cent in ‘high affluence’ households), and white pupils (62 per cent compared with 75 per cent of young people from a BME background).

The decline in young people’s perception of the importance of university may in part be down to a growing awareness of apprenticeships and other high-quality training routes. Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of young people said they would be interested in doing an apprenticeship rather than going to university, if one was available for a job they wanted to do.

Despite this, three-quarters (77 per cent) of young people think they’re likely to go on to higher education after school. This is a similar rate to the past few years, but slightly below the high of 81 per cent in 2013. University aspirations also differ by social background. In 2019, 67 per cent of pupils from the least affluent families thought they were likely to go into higher education, compared to 83 per cent in ‘high affluence’ households.

Of the young people who said it was unlikely they would go into higher education, the most common set of reasons – given by 62 per cent of those across England and Wales who are unlikely to attend – was they do not like the idea or enjoy learning or studying.  Forty-three per cent cited a financial reason, while 41 per cent said that they were not clever enough or would not get good enough exam results to get in to a university.

The polling also finds a small decline in doubts about the cost of going to university. Two-fifths (40 per cent) of young people who are likely to go to university or who are not yet sure either way, are worried about the cost of higher education, down from 46 per cent in 2018. However, money worries continue to be pronounced for young people from the least affluent families (50 per cent compared with 32 per cent in ‘high affluence’ households) and for girls over boys (44 per cent vs 36 per cent).

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “It’s no surprise that young people have doubts about the importance of 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 many cases they will end up with degrees that don’t get them into graduate jobs.

“Young people need better advice and guidance on where different degrees and apprenticeships could lead them, so they can make the right decision regarding their future.”

*See the full polling here

* The Sutton Trust


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.