Students are ill-informed about the costs of higher education, a national survey has found.
Most think costs arising from taking an undergraduate course range from Pounds 2,000-Pounds 5,000 a year, excluding fees. But the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which commissioned the survey by the Institute of Employment Studies, says this is too conservative an estimate.
More than 20,000 students who applied for full-time higher education last year responded to the survey. The results will be unveiled at a conference on Tuesday.
The study found that mature applicants estimated costs to be higher on average. Most respondents were aware of the cost of fees, but there was some confusion about the level of income at which they had to be paid. One in eight thought fees would cost them more than Pounds 2,000 a year.
Martin Harris, CVCP chairman, said: "We must work harder to ensure all those considering higher education and all those who are not considering higher education - because they cannot see how they can afford or benefit by it - are equipped with knowledge about its economic realities.
"I will seek to establish an alliance of higher education partners to develop useful guidance for all universities, schools and colleges, to ensure all potential applicants understand easily what the costs and benefits are."
According to Richard Pearson, IES director, marketing by institutions to attract students has become increasingly important since tuition fees were introduced.
The survey also found that young, white middle-class students attend certain types of university, while ethnic minority and mature students cluster at others.
Respondents were grouped by social class, parental income, ethnicity, sex and age. "You get clear differences - the 'Exeters' concentrate on the middle classes while the 'Guildhalls' focus more on mature students and ethnic minorities," Mr Pearson said.
The work built on an earlier study commissioned by the University of Sussex. Its academic secretary, Ted Nahkle, said: "People from independent schools were more likely to be second or third-generation university. For this group parental advice was important. Parental influence was much stronger among female applicants. The influence of school was stronger on groups for whom this was the first taste of university."