As part of its Does Cost Matter? report, researchers from the National Education Opportunities Network (Neon) asked nearly 1,500 year 13 students who had applied to university how finance had affected their decisions.
Just under 40 per cent say the introduction of £6,000 fees – which is Labour’s key election pledge on higher education – would encourage them to do a course they liked more than the current one they had chosen.
Around 60 per cent said they would have been more likely to choose a longer course, such as a four-year course involving a work placement, if fees were just £6,000.
About half said the lower fee would have seen them widen the choice of institution they would consider attending.
About 40 per cent of respondents also said the cost of studying has made them more likely to opt for a university near where they live, with students from poorer families more likely to be influenced by location.
“The research suggests that many young people are having their higher education choices, and potentially their chances of success in higher education, restricted by fear of debt and a lack of knowledge,” said Graeme Atherton, director of Neon, which co-authored the report.
The study was undertaken to understand why more students are attending university, despite annual tuition fees almost trebling to £9,000, and whether cost had any impact on their decision-making.
Sixth-form students were also asked about what fee levels would deter them from applying to university.
About 65 per cent say they would have thought differently about applying to university if tuition fees rose to £15,000 a year, while about 55 per cent said fees between £12,000 and £15,000 would change their thinking.
However, about half of students said they would still go to university no matter what the fees were as long as they could borrow to pay them.
The study found that more than 70 per cent wanted to go to university because of the interest in their subject and desire to experience higher education.