Report Overview

On behalf of the Trust, Ipsos MORI surveyed 2,381 young people aged 11-16 across England and Wales on their attitudes towards higher education. The Trust has monitored this trend since 2003 as an indicator of young people’s expectations before they do their GCSEs.

This year’s poll shows a falling proportion of young people who think university is important to get on in life and shows how university aspirations continue to differ among young people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Key Findings
  • The proportion of young people who think it’s important to go to university is at it’s lowest since 2010. Three-quarters (75%) think it’s important to go to university to get on in life, down from a high of 86% in 2013 and 78% in 2017. A similar proportion felt that having connections was crucial, with 77% saying that ‘knowing the right people’ was important for success in life.
  • 77% of young people think that they are likely to go into higher education, but just 32% think they are ‘very likely’ to go into higher education (down from a high of 41% in 2009).
  • Disadvantaged pupils are less likely than their peers to believe that they’re likely to go into higher education (67%vs 79%) while girls are more likely than boys to expect going to university (81% vs 73%).
  • Nearly half (46%) of young people likely to go to university are worried about the cost of higher education, a concern that is particularly pronounced among young people from the least affluent families (58% compared with 41% in ‘high affluence’ households).
  • The most commonly cited financial worry is about tuition fees (38%), followed up repaying student loans for up to 30 years (24%) and the cost of living as a student (16%).
  • Of those that said they are unlikely to go into higher education, the most common set of reasons was that they didn’t like this type of learning (58%), followed by financial reasons (44%) and young people not thinking that university is necessary to get the job they like (35%).
  1. The government should introduce a system of means-tested fees which waives fees entirely for those from low income backgrounds, and increases in steps for those from higher income households.
  2. Maintenance grants, abolished in 2016, should be restored, providing support for those who need it most and reducing the debt burden of the least well-off, so that they graduate with lower debt than those from better-off backgrounds.
  3. There should be more higher and degree apprenticeships, targeted at younger age groups, to give young people a platform for progression to higher level learning and careers, including through university.