Students with a strong interest in current affairs are much more likely to plan to go to university than those who are not engaged with the news, research suggests.
Researchers measured the "cultural capital" of 386 sixth-form students by asking how often they read for pleasure, went to the theatre or concerts, and kept up with current affairs via a newspaper, radio or TV.
They found that after students' predicted grades and their parents' educational and occupational backgrounds had been taken into account, students with lower cultural capital scores were much less likely to plan to go on to higher education.
By far the strongest indicator, ahead of an interest in classical music and high art, was students' awareness of current affairs.
"Cultural capital is not just about high culture - it is about being tuned in to language and reference points that are taken for granted in higher education," said lead researcher Peter Davies, professor of education policy at Staffordshire University.
In a second study, Professor Davies and his colleagues identified sixth-form students who were unsure about going to university.
A significant minority - 10 per cent - of 1,173 final-year students were unsure about higher education, even though they had GCSE grades typical of university entrants.
"Students who were not sure about going to university were also more likely to be uncertain about the potential financial benefits," said Professor Davies.
In both studies, researchers found that once a student's exam grades were taken into account, there was no relationship between the educational and occupational backgrounds of their parents and the student's desire to go to university.
Professor Davies said this finding had serious implications for the guidelines used to target pupils via the Aimhigher initiative, which aims to widen access to higher education.
"Aimhigher partnerships work under strict instructions that they must collect information on parental education and occupation, and use this to show they are targeting the right students. But ... there is now strong evidence that these aren't the right indicators to use."