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Cost, poor advice and lack of jobs putting young people off higher education, warns report

8 December 2014

• Privately educated children more than twice as likely to want to go to university as college students • Boys are significantly less likely to want to go than girls • The desire to go to university declines as teens get older • Union calls for overhaul of advice and guidance for all young people

The perceived cost of university education, no guarantee of a job and poor advice and guidance is putting key groups of young people off higher education, warns new polling analysis released today as part of a report by UCU.

The report, looking at young people's perceptions of post-18 training and education, shows that the three main reasons given for not going to university (too expensive, no guaranteed job and fears of debt) are the same top three concerns raised by young people who do intend to go.

The report also found that the type of school young people attend is strongly associated with whether or not they think they will go to university, as does their social class, gender and age. ComRes polled 2,006 young people aged 13 to 17 and found that four-fifths (78%) of pupils at private school said they wanted to go on to higher education after school or college, compared to just three in five (62%) state school students and less than a third (31%) of college students.

Young people are more likely to say they want to go on to higher education than their older contemporaries. Two-thirds of 13 and 14 year olds (64% for both ages) reported wanting to go to university, compared to around half of 16 and 17 year olds (53% and 55% respectively). Young men (55%) are significantly less likely to state they want to go to university than young women (63%).

UCU said the report highlighted how important the advice young people received was in terms of their desire to go to university. Just a third (31%) of young people said they had been to an open day at a university or college, but almost all of those who had (95%) said they had found the experience useful.

Social class and school attended is also associated with the level of information young people received. Almost one in five (17%) pupils in social grade DE reported receiving no advice or guidance about the different options available to them when they leave school or college, compared to just one in 10 (9%) pupils in social grade AB. Those who said they received no advice or guidance are most likely to attend state school (15%), compared to 5% at private schools or sixth form colleges and 7% of college students.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Worryingly, class, gender and schooling still play far too large a part in whether or not young people even consider university, with boys from state schools and the poorest economic backgrounds faring worst. This report highlights how young people are worried by the perceived cost of university and further hindered by a lack of good advice.

'If everyone is to benefit, young people need to be persuaded that continuing in education is a viable option. Young people should have access to high quality independent advice on their future irrespective of gender, background or the type of school they attend.

'For too many young people university remains an alien prospect. Teachers do a fantastic job, but we want to see a comprehensive package that includes national careers advice for all and taxpayer support for an expansion of outreach work in the community by universities and colleges.'

The report is accompanied by commentaries from Dr Neil Raven, Loughborough University; Professor Penny Jane Burke, Roehampton University; Ed Foster, Nottingham Trent University and Ruth Woodfield, University of St Andrews which analyse the findings of the report and how gender, class, age and qualifications impact on young people's perceptions about higher education.

The full report and commentaries are available here:

Young people’s perceptions about post-18 education and training options – ComRes report for UCU, Dec 14 [4mb]

Young people’s perceptions about post-18 education and training options – commentaries, Dec 14 [963kb]

ComRes interviewed 2,006 young people aged 13 to 17 online between 7 and 19 August 2014. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full data tables are available at 

Last updated: 10 December 2015