Over three-quarters (77%) of young people think that they are either very likely or fairly likely to go on to higher education, but almost half of those likely to go (47%) worry about the cost, according to new Ipsos MORI polling of 11 – 16 year olds in academies and maintained schools in England and Wales published today by the Sutton Trust. 36% of the 2,555 respondents said that they were ‘very likely’ to go into higher education and 41% said it was ‘fairly likely’ they would do so. Girls were slightly more likely than boys to think it likely they would go into higher education (79% vs 75%).

Just one in 10 (11%) of the young people polled said it was unlikely they would go on to higher education. Of this group, the most common set of reasons – given by over two-thirds (68%) of those unlikely to attend – was a dislike of this type of learning. Specific reasons within this set include that they would rather do something practical (55%), that they don’t like the idea of university (30%) or that they do not enjoy learning (23%). Almost a third (31%) cited one or more social reasons, including that their parents didn’t go to university (16%) or that they thought ‘people like them’ weren’t expected to go (15%).

Last month a separate survey by UCAS highlighted how important strong aspirations at a young age are: they found that children who know at 10 that they want to go to university are twice as likely to go to a selective one as those who decide at 16. Similarly, recent research by the Sutton Trust found that positive beliefs and high aspirations play an important part in shaping academic outcomes after GCSE, but that disadvantaged students were less likely to think they will go on to university than their more advantaged peers.

Every year since 2003, the Sutton Trust has asked a representative sample of around 2,500 young people in academies and state maintained schools about their higher education aspirations. The proportion of young people reporting it likely that they would go on to higher education has risen from 71% in 2003, to 77% today.

In 2016, almost half (47%) of the young people who said they were likely to go to higher education said they were worried about the cost of higher education. While almost half (45%) of those who were worried about the cost said their biggest concern was tuition fees of up to £9,000, financial concerns varied: one in five (19%) said their biggest concern was repaying their student loan for up to 30 years, cost of living as a student was the biggest concern for 17% and one in 20 (4%) named lost earnings from not working as their biggest concern.

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

“Our previous research has shown how important aspirations can be in shaping a young person’s outcomes after GCSE so it is encouraging to see that aspirations amongst our young people remain high.

“However there is still a minority who think that university isn’t for them, or that they aren’t clever enough to go. We know from previous research pupils from poorer households are more likely to be in this group. The axing of maintenance grants loads up poorer students with even more debt on top of the current debt levels which are more than double the United States.  Even if it does not deter poorer students from applying, the debt levels they incur are storing up major problems for them in the future.”



  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 170 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. Believing in Better (June 2016) by Professor Pam Sammons, Dr Katalin Toth and Professor Kathy Sylva at the University of Oxford, explores how a young person’s aspirations and attitudes towards university affect their academic outcomes after GCSE. The research drew on data from more than 3,000 young people who have been tracked through school since the age of three for the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) project.
  3. Tuition fees for 2016/17 are set at a maximum £9,000, rising to £9,250 in 2017/18. The Higher Education Initial Participation Rate in 2013/14 (the most recent year for which data is available) shows that 47% of young people start university by the age of 30 and 39% do so by age 21.
  1. The Sutton Trust added questions to Ipsos MORI’s 2016 Young People Omnibus. The findings are based on data from a representative sample of 2,555 11-16 year olds attending academies and maintained schools in England and Wales. The research was conducted in a sample of schools, with pupils filling out paper self-completion questionnaires under supervision by Ipsos MORI’s interviewers. Fieldwork was conducted between 18th January and 26th April 2016. Data has been weighted by school year, gender and region to match the profile of school children across England and Wales. The Sutton Trust has asked similar questions in the Young People Omnibus since 2003 using a similar methodology. Base for ‘likely to go to higher education’: 1986. Base for ‘unlikely to go into higher education’: 286..


Q1. How likely or unlikely are you to go into higher education when you are old enough?
(Table showing 2003, 2015 and 2016)


Base: All255524882469

(Very likely + Fairly Likely)


(Very unlikely + fairly unlikely)

Not sure either way yet10%9%14%
Not stated2%1%2%


Q2. Why are you unlikely to go into higher education?
(Table showing 2003, 2015 and 2016)


Base: All who are unlikely to go into higher education286240343
Don’t like this type of learning

(I do not enjoy learning + I don’t like the idea of it + I prefer to do something practical rather than studying from books + Someone from a university talked to me about higher education and it put me off)

68%71% n/a

(I want to start earning money as soon as possible + I’m worried about getting into debt as a student + My family can’y afford to pay for me to be a student + My family want me to start earning money as soon as possible)

62%60% n/a
Not needed for job

(I can get a well-paid job without a degree + I do not need a degree to do the job(s) I am considering)

43%49% n/a
Not clever enough

(I won’t get good enough exam results to get into university + I’m not clever enough)

44%37% n/a

(Most of my friends are not planning to go to university + My parents did not go to university + My teachers are encouraging me to do something else + People like me are not expected to go to university)

31%25% n/a
I don’t know enough about it21%17%16%
Don’t know3%2%1%
Not stated1%2%1%


Q3. To what extent, if at all, are you worried about the cost of higher education?
(Table showing 2014-16)


Base: All who are likely to go into higher education198619712181

(Very worried + fairly worried)

Not worried

Not very worried + not worried at all

Don’t Know6%6%6%
Not stated1%1%1%


Q4. Which of the following, if any, is your biggest concern about the cost of higher education?
(Table showing 2014-16)


Base: All who are likely to go into higher education and are worried about the cost of higher education9309611121
Tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year45%45%44%
Having to repay student loans for up to 30 years19%18%18%
The cost of living as a student17%15%17%
Lost earnings by not working4%3%4%
I am not worried about any of these things2%3%3%
Don’t know12%14%12%
Not stated2%2%3%
Any worries84% n/an/a


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