Report Overview

The Sutton Trust surveyed young people on their hopes for higher education, in our annual university aspirations polling through Ipsos MORI.

2,612 young people aged 11-16 in England and Wales, along with 269 in Scotland, were asked about their aspirations and worries for higher education, exploring their attitudes to tuition fees and student debt. This year’s poll shows a falling trend in likelihood of university attendance and an increase in financial concerns.

Key findings
  • The proportion of young people who say they are likely to go into higher education as fallen to its lowest level since 2009. Just under three-quarters (74%) of young people think that they are either very or fairly likely to go into higher education, down from a high of 81% in 2013. The figure was 77% in 2016.  The proportion who say they are unlikely to attend is the highest we have seen since our polling on this topic began in 2003.
  • Just over half of young people intending to attend university 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, and is back at its highest level we have recorded. Financial worries are particularly pronounced in families with low levels of affluence (66% compared with 46% in ‘high affluence’ households).
  • The proportion of pupils from ‘low affluence’ households (61%) intending to attend university is the lowest in seven years for which we have data, and the socioeconomic gap in likelihood between high and low affluence households is also the highest it has been.
  • Girls (77%) are more likely than boys (70%) to expect to enter higher education. BAME young people (82%) are more likely than white (71%).
  • 46% of those likely to go to university say they are most worried about tuition fees, with 18% saying the paying back of loans and 16% the cost of living as a student. Of those unlikely to go into higher education 70% cited reasons related to not enjoying it, while 64% cited a financial reason (up from 57% in 2013).
  1. The Government should reform the student funding system, means-testing fees so poorer students face lower costs and graduate debt, along with restoring maintenance grants.
  2. The Government should ensure that students get a fair deal on repayment – with the repayment threshold index linked again, coupled with lower interest rates.