Drop in proportion of young people considering higher education, says survey

10 Aug 17

Fewer young people think they are likely to go into higher education because of concern over costs, research from The Sutton Trust suggests.

Just 74% thought they were likely to go to higher education – the lowest proportion since 2009, according to a poll of 2,612 11-16 year olds in academies and maintained schools in England and Wales.

In 2008 only 8% of young people thought that it was unlikely that they would go into higher education. That figure has risen to 14% in 2017, up from 11% in 2016.

Although, today’s figures show this is down from a high of 81% in 2013 and 77% in 2016.

The proportions are worse for pupils from ‘low affluence’ families of whom only 61% believe they are likely to stay in education beyond the age of 16.

Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “It is no surprise that there has been a fall in the proportion of young people hoping to go into higher education.

“Our own separate research has shown that graduates will be paying back their loans well into middle age, affecting their ability to go to graduate school, afford a mortgage and decisions on having children.”

He warned that when faced with debts of £57k and “soaring” interest rates poorer students are reluctant to seek higher education opportunities.

Lampi stated: “It is outrageous that someone from a council estate should pay more than someone from a top boarding school.

“This reform should include means-testing tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants so poorer students face lower fees and lower debt on graduation.”

The Sutton Trust is urging the government to reform the student funding system, means-testing fees so poorer students face lower fees and graduate debt, restoring maintenance grants and introducing a fairer repayment system.

Today’s study found that 51% of youngsters are worried about the cost of higher education. While this proportion had been declining steadily since 2014, it has risen again, from 47% in 2016.

Again, money worries are particularly pronounced in poorer families, where 66% expressed concern compared with 46% of pupils in ‘high affluence’ households.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said it is “no surprise” that young people are unwilling to take on the huge debts now required to attend university.

She added: “Many young people who have experienced their families’ financial struggles as children will be wary of taking on such a huge burden of debt.

“Cuts to university budgets have also affected widening participation programmes, so there is less money for outreach programmes to help disadvantaged young people aware of the opportunities in higher education.”

She said the rise in disadvantaged young people not applying for university was a result of the government abolishing maintenance grants for students from low-income homes and allowing universities to put up their fees further if they reach agreed standards in teaching.

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