The importance of university shrinks among young people

Only three-quarters of secondary school children think it is important to get on in life, a Sutton Trust report finds

The proportion of young people who think it’s important to go to university has fallen steadily over the past six years, according to a recent Sutton Trust report.

Three-quarters of 11-16-year-olds surveyed this year think it’s important to go to university to do well and get on in life, down from a high of 86% in 2013 and 78% in 2017.

Despite this, 77% think they’re likely to go on to university after school. Less than a third (32%) of the young people polled though said that they were ‘very likely’ to go into higher education, down from a high of 41% in 2009), while 45% said it was ‘fairly likely’ they would do so.

The polling highlights how university aspirations differ by gender and by social background. Disadvantaged pupils are less like 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 to enter higher education (81% vs 73%).

Disadvantaged pupils are less like likely than their peers to believe that they’re likely to go into higher education

In reality, a third of 18 and 19-year-olds will go on to higher education in England and Wales, whilst 49% of young adults do so by the age of 30. But this aspirations barometer, monitored by the Sutton Trust since 2003, is an important indicator of 11-16-year-olds expectations of going to university.

The polling also finds that nearly half (46%) of young people who are likely to go to university are worried about the cost of higher education. Money worries are particularly pronounced for young people from the least affluent families (58% compared with 41% in ‘high affluence’ households), and those in single parent households (52% compared with 44% for two-parent households).

The polling also finds that nearly half (46%) of young people who are likely to go to university are worried about the cost of higher education

Among pupils who are likely to go into higher education, or aren’t sure either way yet, and are worried about the cost of higher education, the most common financial worry is about tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year (38%). Having to repay student loans for up to 30 years is the second most common concern at 24%, while 16% cited the cost of living as a student.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:“Young people face a dilemma. If they go on to university they incur debts of over £50,000 and will be paying back their loans well into middle age. And in a number of cases they end up with degrees that don’t get them into graduate jobs.”