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New report warns increase in tuition fees would stop poorest kids from going to university

30 June 2016

If university fees go up, young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds would be most likely to be deterred from going to university, warns a new report released today.

Does Cost Matter? produced by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) and supported by the University and College Union (UCU), found that an increase in fees would see young people who are eligible for free school meals most likely to reconsider going to university, followed by non-white young people.  

The findings come as the government seeks to allow English universities that meet the criteria of a new Teaching Excellence Framework to raise tuition fees above the current £9,000 cap.

The report, based on an online survey of 1,500 students and two focus groups, found that non-white young people and free school meal recipients were most likely choose low-cost university options if tuition fees were variable.

Non-white students were also more likely to live at home and choose to study near home. Those with at least one university-educated parent were the least likely to consider this.

Financial support was cited as the best way to try and help young people to broaden their horizons. The report found that the availability of maintenance grants would have the most impact on non-white young people in encouraging them to apply to university.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'What a travesty that the rising cost of tuition fees would be most likely to deter young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds from going to university. Clearly, cost does matter and there is a very real danger that raising tuition fees over £9,000 will damage progress made by widening participation initiatives.

'Worryingly, the study also shows that if they do choose to go to university, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to put cost at the forefront of their decision-making - often opting for institutions close to home which offer cheaper study that can be combined with part-time work.  We risk creating a polarised university system of haves and have-nots where costs determines young people's choices.'

Last updated: 1 July 2016