The proportion of young people who think they are likely to go into Higher Education when they are old enough has fallen to the lowest level since 2009, according to new Ipsos MORI polling of 2,612 11 – 16 year olds in academies and maintained schools in England and Wales published by the Sutton Trust today (10 Aug).

dr Mary Bousted 100x100 edited 1Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said:

It is no surprise that young people are unwilling to take on the huge debts now required to attend university, particularly since the average student leaves university with debts in excess of £50,000. 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. The increase in disadvantaged young people not applying for university is as 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.

Petra Wilton 100x100Petra Wilton, director of strategy for the Chartered Management Institute, said:

The traditional university route is out of reach for many school leavers, leaving too many behind. The new breed of degree-level apprenticeships, like the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, will help tackle the UK’s growing skills gap. Funded by the Apprenticeship Levy, students can now earn as they study for a degree. Schools, employers and parents need to work together to change perceptions get more young people starting degree apprenticeships.

Sir 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.

“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.

Department for Education Spokesperson:

The department has taken a number of steps to make sure that loans for higher education are sustainable and fair. This includes university graduates only paying back their loans when they are earning over £21,000 and that loans are written off altogether after 30 years.

More generally with further and technical education options, the department is providing greater choice. This includes introducing new T levels backed by over £500 million a year once up and running and creating prestigious new Institutes of Technologies. As well, the department is rolling out more Degree Apprenticeships, which are providing employers with the higher level technical skills they need to improve productivity, and giving young people an equally valid career route as going to university.

Jo Johnson100x100Universities 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 per cent 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.

We also want technical education to stand side-by-side with traditional academic routes. We are reforming and investing in apprenticeships and technical qualifications to allow people to choose a route that is right for them.


Although just under three-quarters (74%) of young people think that they are either very or fairly likely to go into higher education, this is down from a high of 81% in 2013 and 77% in 2016. Almost a decade ago (2008) only eight percent 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.

In reality, over a third of 18 and 19 year-olds will go on to Higher Education in England and Wales, whilst 48% of young adults do so by the age of 30. But this aspirations barometer is an important indicator of young people’s expectations before they do their GCSEs.

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.

One third (33%) of the young people polled said that they were ‘very likely’ to go into higher education and 41% said it was ‘fairly likely’ they would do so. However, the proportion of pupils from ‘low affluence’ households who believe they are likely to go into Higher Education has fallen to lowest level for the seven years for which data is available (61%). Girls (77%) are more likely than boys (70%) to expect to enter higher education too.

Half of young people “likely” to go into Higher Education are worried about the cost of higher education (51%). While this proportion had been declining steadily since 2014, it has risen again, from 47% in 2016. Money worries are particularly pronounced in families with low levels of affluence (66% compared with 46% in ‘high affluence’ households). Of those likely to go to university, when asked to consider their biggest concern about the cost of going into HE, 46% say they are most worried about tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year, with 18% citing that they have to repay student loans for up to 30 years and 16% the cost of living as a student.

Given the absence of tuition fees north of the border, it is understandable that, among a separate sample of schoolchildren in Scotland, a lower proportion are worried about the cost of higher education than their counterparts in England and Wales. However, the cost of higher education it is still a concern for four in ten (40%) young people in Scotland.

Of all the young people who said it was unlikely they would go into higher education, the most common set of reasons – given by over two-thirds (70%) of those across England and Wales is unlikely to attend – was they don’t like the idea or dislike of this type of learning. The top two specific reasons within this set include that they would rather do something practical rather than studying from books (54%) or that they do not enjoy learning (36%). Two-thirds (64%) cited a financial reason (up from 57% in 2013), typically the desire to start earning money as soon as possible (51%).

To make sure that the cost of going into Higher Education is not a bar to anyone, the Sutton Trust is calling on the Government to review the case for means-testing tuition fees. The Trust is also calling for the Government to ensure that students get a fair deal on repayment – with the repayment threshold index linked again and lower interest rates.

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