Schoolchildren in England and Wales are becoming less likely to believe that going to university is important for getting on in life, according to a survey.
The poll of 2,809 11- to 16-year-olds, conducted for the social mobility charity the Sutton Trust, suggested that growing awareness of apprenticeships might explain in part the fall in the perceived importance of higher education.
The results were announced as hundreds of thousands of teenagers were due to get their A level results and confirm university places on 15 August.
According to the poll, 65 per cent of respondents said that they felt going to university was important for getting on in life, down from 75 per cent last year, and down from a high of 86 per cent in 2013. The proportion who felt that going to university was not important has risen from 11 per cent in 2013 to 20 per cent in 2019.
Three-quarters of respondents (75 per cent) said that they felt knowing the right people was important for getting on in life.
The Sutton Trust said that the shift might be explained by growing awareness of apprenticeships and other high-quality training routes. Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of respondents said that they would be interested in an apprenticeship rather than going to university, if one was available for a job that they wanted to do.
Despite this, 77 per cent of respondents said that they were likely to go university when they were old enough – a similar proportion to recent years, but slightly down from the 2013 high of 81 per cent.
More than one in three respondents (36 per cent) said that their teachers had never discussed apprenticeships with them at school, although 47 per cent said that their teachers had done so.
There were significant differences in responses by social and ethnic backgrounds: going to university was deemed less important for young people from the least affluent families (61 per cent, versus 67 per cent among the richest schoolchildren), and white children (62 per cent, versus 75 per cent among ethnic minorities).
The proportion of respondents who said that they were concerned about the costs of higher education fell to 40 per cent, down from 46 per cent last year and 51 per cent the year before. However, money worries continue to be more pronounced among young people from the poorest backgrounds (50 per cent, versus 32 per cent from the richest families), and for girls over boys (44 per cent versus 36 per cent).
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said that young people “face a dilemma”. “If they go on to university, they incur debts of over £50,000 and will be paying back their loans well into middle age. And in many cases they will end up with degrees that don’t get them into graduate jobs,” Sir Peter said.
“Young people need better advice and guidance on where different degrees and apprenticeships could lead them, so they can make the right decision regarding their future.”
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