A record proportion of secondary school pupils in England and Wales want to go to university, but the number of aspirants would drop dramatically if annual tuition fees were to rise to £7,000, according to the latest Ipsos MORI survey published today by the Sutton Trust.

However the survey, carried out between January and April 2010, found that an increase in tuition fees from the current £3,225 a year to £5,000 a year would not have such a dampening effect. The survey also suggests that young people need better advice to make informed choices about their university futures.

Eight in ten (80%) of the pupils aged 11-16 at schools in England and Wales said they were either ‘very likely’ (39%) or ‘fairly likely’ (41%) to go into higher education.

This is by far the highest proportion since the Sutton Trust first commissioned the annual survey in 2003 (71%) and is significantly higher than in 2008 (73%).

The 2,700 survey respondents were asked for the first time this year to rate their likelihood of attending university if tuition fees were raised. More than two-thirds (68%) said they would still be likely to go on to higher education if fees were increased to £5,000. But only 45% would be likely to continue to university if fees were raised to £7,000 – and this percentage falls to 26% with a major hike up to £10,000 (see notes).

The survey also highlights that more work is needed to ensure that young people understand the implications of their higher education decisions. More than three-quarters of the respondents were not aware of the differential earnings potential of different universities – with only 18% thinking that it mattered in the world of work which institution your degree was from.

Just over seven in ten students (71%) said that they would like to know more about how future wages are affected by institution type and six in ten (60%) said it would be worth paying a higher tuition fee if it increased their chances of getting a well-paid job. Worryingly, nearly a quarter of pupils in years 10 and 11 (23%) reported that they know nothing at all about getting help with the costs of higher education.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The survey shows we have more young people than ever before who aspire to university, even though there is already stiff competition for places. Many pupils will be sorely disappointed – and we must make sure it is not those from poorer homes, already underrepresented in higher education, who miss out most.

The findings are also a warning that significantly higher fees may affect university participation. If Lord Browne’s review concludes that higher fees are necessary, there is a significant task ahead in ensuring that all young people – and particularly those from non-privileged homes – are equipped with the information they need to make well-informed decisions.”


The survey also finds that students from homes where no parent works are less likely to aspire to higher education. There are significant differences depending on the work status of a young person’s household. Seven in ten (71%) of those with two working adults are likely to go into higher education with a £5,000 annual tuition fee, while those with only one working adult (63%) or no working adults (55%) are less likely to say they would do this if the fees were increased. With a proposed annual tuition fee of £7,000, pupils living with two working adults are again more likely than average to say they are likely to go into higher education (47%), compared with 41% and 35% of young people from households with one or no working adult respectively.

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