The poor reputation of some universities is combining with a fear of debt to deter non-traditional students from going to university, according to the preliminary findings of a study released today.
The two-year study from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which will report in autumn, is expected to lend weight to the mounting evidence that the introduction of tuition fees and the abolition of maintenance grants is hindering access to university for the most disadvantaged groups.
But it will also highlight institutional reputation as a hitherto largely unacknowledged factor in blocking university access.
Early findings of the study, Paving the Way , based on more than 800 questionnaires, follow-up interviews and focus groups, show that fear of debt, concerns about an institution's reputation and consequent employment prospects are the main reasons for students rejecting university.
The picture is further complicated as many students from non-traditional backgrounds, especially Asian women, are restricted to their local universities.
Lecturers' union Natfhe will today use its conference on student access and retention to call for investment in university staff to reduce the public money wasted through dropouts. Natfhe said that the cost associated with increasing staffing levels to improve staff-to-student ratios would be easily outweighed by the savings associated with reducing dropouts.
The Paving the Way study, conducted jointly by Ucas and five higher education institutions, will highlight a lack of tutorial support as a major factor in student dropouts, which disproportionately hit non-traditional students who may require different types and levels of support.