The proportion of young people who think they are likely to go into Higher Education when they are old enough has fallen to the lowest level since 2009, according to new Ipsos MORI polling of 2,612 11 – 16 year olds in academies and maintained schools in England and Wales published by the Sutton Trust today.

Although just under three-quarters (74%) of young people think that they are either very or fairly likely to go into higher education, this is down from a high of 81% in 2013 and 77% in 2016. Almost a decade ago (2008) only eight percent of young people thought that it was unlikely that they would go into higher education. That figure has risen to 14% in 2017, up from 11%in 2016.

In reality, over a third of 18 and 19 year-olds will go on to Higher Education in England and Wales, whilst 48% of young adults do so by the age of 30.[1] But this aspirations barometer is an important indicator of young people’s expectations before they do their GCSEs.

The Sutton Trust is urging the Government to reform the student funding system, means-testing fees so poorer students face lower fees and graduate debt, restoring maintenance grants and introducing a fairer repayment system.

One third (33%) of the young people polled said that they were ‘very likely’ to go into higher education and 41% said it was ‘fairly likely’ they would do so. However, the proportion of pupils from ‘low affluence’ households who believe they are likely to go into Higher Education has fallen to lowest level for the seven years for which data is available (61%). Girls (77%) are more likely than boys (70%) to expect to enter higher education too.

Half of young people “likely” to go into Higher Education are worried about the cost of higher education (51%). While this proportion had been declining steadily since 2014, it has risen again, from 47% in 2016. Money worries are particularly pronounced in families with low levels of affluence (66% compared with 46% in ‘high affluence’ households). Of those likely to go to university, when asked to consider their biggest concern about the cost of going into HE, 46% say they are most worried about tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year, with 18% citing that they have to repay student loans for up to 30 years and 16% the cost of living as a student.

Given the absence of tuition fees north of the border, it is understandable that, among a separate sample of schoolchildren in Scotland, a lower proportion are worried about the cost of higher education than their counterparts in England and Wales. However, the cost of higher education it is still a concern for four in ten (40%) young people in Scotland.

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 two-thirds (70%) of those across England and Wales is unlikely to attend – was they don’t like the idea or dislike of this type of learning. The top two specific reasons within this set include that they would rather do something practical rather than studying from books (54%) or that they do not enjoy learning (36%). Two-thirds (64%) cited a financial reason (up from 57% in 2013), typically the desire to start earning money as soon as possible (51%).

To make sure that the cost of going into Higher Education is not a bar to anyone, the Sutton Trust is calling on the Government to review the case for means-testing tuition fees. The Trust is also calling for the Government to ensure that students get a fair deal on repayment – with the repayment threshold index linked again and lower interest rates.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today:

It is no surprise that there has been a fall in the proportion of young people hoping to go into Higher Education. Our own separate research has shown that graduates will be paying back their loans well into middle age, affecting their ability to go to graduate school, afford a mortgage and decisions on having children.

“With debts up to £57,000 for poorer graduates and soaring student loan interest rates, the system is badly in need of reform. It is outrageous that someone from a council estate should pay more than someone from a top boarding school. This reform should include means-testing tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants so poorer students face lower fees and lower debt on graduation.”



  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 200 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  2. Ipsos MORI interviewed 2,612 school children aged 11-16 in schools in England and Wales. Pupils were selected from a random sample of schools, and self-completion questionnaires were completed at school between 6th February and 17th May 2017. Data are weighted by school year, gender and region to match the profile of school children across England and Wales. The same methodology has been used to conduct this research with 11-16 year olds in England and Wales each year since 2003. The numbers of 11-16 year olds interviewed in the quoted years are as follows: 2016 (2,555), 2014 (2,796), 2013 (2,595) and 2008 (2,387).
  3. Ipsos MORI determines the affluence of young people’s backgrounds through a series of four questions in the questionnaire (frequency of family holidays, having one’s own bedroom in the family home, number of computers in household, whether the family owns a vehicle). Of the 2,612 11-16 year olds interviewed in England and Wales in 2017, 1,449 have been determined to come from ‘high’ affluence backgrounds and 220 from ‘low’ affluence backgrounds.
  4. A separate sample of 269 young people (aged 11 – 16) was also conducted in Scotland this year using the same survey methodology.
  5. The full tables are on the Aspirations Polling 2017 research page.

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