Number of pupils planning to go to university at lowest level since 2009

Fewer young people think they are likely to go to university, according to a poll. Picture: PA.
Fewer young people think they are likely to go to university, according to a poll. Picture: PA.

Fewer young people think they are likely to go to university, according to a poll, with many suggesting they have financial concerns or simply do not like the idea.

The proportion of secondary school pupils planning to study for a degree remains high, at around three-quarters (74%).

But this figure is at its lowest level since 2009, according to the Sutton Trust survey, and is down from a high of 81% in 2013.

Last year, around 77% told researchers it was likely they would go to university.

In the annual Sutton Trust poll, which questioned more than 2,600 11 to 16-year-olds in England and Wales, around one in seven (14%) said they were unlikely to go on to higher education, compared with 11% last year, and 8% five years ago in 2012.

Of those who said they were unlikely to go to university, seven in 10 said they did not like the idea, or did not enjoy studying, while nearly two-thirds (64%) had financial reasons such as wanting to start earning as soon as possible and debt concerns.

More than two in five (44%) thought they were not clever enough, or would not get good enough results, while a similar proportion (42%) did not think they would need a degree for the jobs they were considering.

Of those who said they were likely to study for a degree, around half (51%) said they were worried about the cost of higher education, up from 47% last year.

The biggest money concern was tuition fees, followed by having to repay student loans for up to 30 years and the cost of living as a student.

The findings come amid growing debate on the future of tuition fees, which now stand at up to £9,250 a year for universities in England.

Ucas figures show 32.5% of English 18-year-olds entered higher education last year, the highest recorded entry rate for England.

The increase means young people were 4% more likely to go to university than in 2015 and 31% more likely than in 2006.

The Sutton Trust said its findings are an important indicator of young people's plans before they sit their GCSEs.

Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl 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.

"With debts up to £57,000 for poorer graduates and soaring student loan interest rates, the system is badly in need of reform.

"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."

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: "The reality is that young people are more likely to go to university than ever before, with entry rates for 18-year-olds rising every year since 2012. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds are 43% more likely to enter higher education than in 2009.

"Our student finance system ensures that costs are split fairly between graduates and the taxpayer. However, there is still more to do to ensure that students get value for money.

"That is why we have created a new regulator, the Office for Students, that will hold universities to account for teaching quality and student outcomes through the Teaching Excellence Framework."

:: Ipsos Mori questioned 2,612 11 to 16-year-olds in England and Wales between February and May.