Lack of support kills dreams

May 24, 2002

Schools and the costs of study are turning young people off higher education, it emerged this week. The supposedly elitist image of universities is not to blame.

A MORI poll published on Wednesday showed that 68 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds believe they will go to university. Just 11 per cent thought it was unlikely and 17 per cent were undecided.

The poll, commissioned by the Sutton Trust, an independent foundation promoting access, flies in the face of the government's repeated claims that universities are responsible for deterring young people, particularly those from poor backgrounds, because of an imagined complacency towards access or some lingering ivory-tower attitude.

Peter Lampl, chairman and founder of the Sutton Trust, said: "We had no idea that so many would have set their sights on university. However despite these high intentions still too many students fall by the wayside."

Mr Lampl said that young people were turned off education at 16 because they were fed up with school. Many saw the school curriculum as irrelevant and overly academic and wanted to start earning money as soon as possible.

Another swath of people was turned off at 18 because of the costs of higher education.

"The funding situation for students is appalling. The differential between the richest and poorest is £1,075 a year (the maximum tuition fee this year). My scheme is to make people who can afford it pay more for university. For poorer kids, pay their fees and maintenance but perhaps make them take out a (limited) loan."

Baroness Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "Widening participation is a long-term process and, as this survey indicates, for progress to be made towards the 50 per cent participation target, increased aspiration needs to be matched by improved levels of achievement in schools."

Owain James, president of the National Union of Students, said: "The poll highlights the fact that finance is one of the main barriers to higher education."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"Very few people from the group aspiring to higher education will be dropping out at 16. But I still think that a lot of people from homes with no history of higher education are deterred by debt and will drop out at 18."

Some 35 per cent of the 2,670 11 to 16-year-olds polled in 108 secondary and middle schools said they were very likely to go to university and 33 per cent said they were fairly likely to do so.

More girls aspired to university (73 per cent) than boys (64 per cent). Ethnic minority children were more likely than white pupils to aspire to university - 41 per cent compared with 34 per cent.

Of the 11 per cent who said they were unlikely to go on to higher education, 55 per cent said that this was because they wanted to leave school and get a job.

Less than 30 per cent said that their form tutors or teachers had given them information and less than 10 per cent cited careers advisers or university staff. University prospectuses emerged as the single most influential source of information.

Secretary of state for education Estelle Morris said: "The survey shows that fewer than three in ten young people identify their teachers or form tutors as a source of information about higher education and fewer than one in ten identifies careers service advisers and university staff. We want to encourage schools, colleges and universities to reach out further to young people and tell them about the benefits of higher education. Their role is vital."

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