Young people’s aspirations towards higher education are the highest ever, with 77 percent saying they are fairly likely or very likely to enter university.

The findings, from an Ipsos MORI poll of over 2,447 pupils aged 11-16 in state schools, come despite reports of poorer graduate job prospects in the recession, and cuts in the expansion of higher education, which could mean 20,000 fewer funded places in 2010.

The 77 percent figure is up from 73 percent last year and is the highest since the poll was started seven years ago (see summary table below).

The findings also highlight a disconnect between students’ aspirations and outcomes, as currently only 32 percent of young people enter higher education – less than half the proportion who say they are fairly likely or very likely to go to university when asked earlier in their education career. There is also a socio-economic class gap, with children from working households significantly more likely to aspire to university than those from households where no parents work (79% compared to 66%).

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, commented:

“The survey suggests that efforts to increase participation have been buoyed by the economic crisis and the shortage of jobs, which has made further study a more attractive prospect for many young people.

While this is good news in some respects, we must ensure we don’t build up students’ expectations early on in school only for them to be dashed at age 18. The ideal would be that every young person with the potential to benefit should have access to higher education, but in the current economic climate the most pressing question is who gets access to the limited number of university places available.

Sadly, these findings confirm that it continues to be non-privileged youngsters who are least likely to progress, so efforts to raise the aspirations and achievement of bright students from poorer homes must continue.”

Summary of findings

How likely or unlikely are you to go into higher education when you are old enough?

.2009 %2008 %2007 %2006 %2005 %2004 %2003 %
Very likely43%39 %37%34%34%33%40%
Fairly likely34%34%34%37%35%36%1%
Fairly unlikely6%6%8%5%7%7%8%
Very unlikely4%3%4%4%5%5%5%
Not sure either way yet13%19%17%19%18%18%14%
Not stated1%1%1%*2%

Base for 2009 and 2008: All answering (2009: 2,329; 2008: 2,374))
Pre-2008 figures include respondents who did not state an answer

Self-completion questionnaires were completed in 106 classroom sessions between 9th January and 3rd April 2009. Data have been weighted by gender, age and region. Results are based on all pupils in England and Wales, unless otherwise stated.

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