Report Overview

On behalf of the Trust, Ipsos MORI surveyed 2,809 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 highlights that young people think that knowing the right people and being confident are more important for getting on in life than going to university, and shows how university aspirations continue to differ among young people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.


Three-quarters of young people think knowing the right people is more important than attending university.


The proportion of young people saying it’s important to attend university has fallen from 86% to 65%


Almost two thirds of young people would consider an apprenticeship over university.

Key Findings
  • Almost nine out of 10 (85%) said it’s important to be confident to do well and get on in life. Three quarters felt that having connections was crucial, with 75% saying that ‘knowing the right people’ is important for success in life.
  • However, just under two-thirds (65%) said they think it’s important to go to university. This has fallen from a high of 86% in 2013, with the proportion who feel that going to university is not important rising from 11% in 2013 to 20% in 2019.
  • University was deemed less important for young people from the least affluent families (61% compared with 67% in ‘high affluence’ households), and white pupils (62% compared with 75% of young people from a BME background).
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of young people said they’d be interested in doing an apprenticeship rather than going to university, if one was available for a job they wanted to do.
  • Three-quarters (77%) of young people think they’re likely to go on to higher education after school. This is a similar rate to the past few years, but slightly below the high of 81% in 2013. University aspirations also differ by social background. In 2019, 67% of pupils from the least affluent families thought they were likely to go into higher education, compared to 83% in ‘high affluence’ households.
  • Of the young people who said it was unlikely they would go into higher education, the most common set of reasons (62%) was they don’t like the idea or don’t enjoy learning or studying. 43% cited a financial reason, while 41% said that they weren’t clever enough or wouldn’t get good enough exam results to get in.
  • Two-fifths (40%) of young people who are likely to go to university or who aren’t sure either way yet, are worried about the cost of higher education, down from 46% in 2018. However, money worries continue to be pronounced for young people from the least affluent families (50% compared with 32% in ‘high affluence’ households) and for girls over boys (44% vs 36%).
  1. All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers, to help them make an informed decision about their next steps.
  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. 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.
  4. 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.