In a report titled Access for All, published on 8 July, the Strategic Society Centre says the government should target an information campaign at parents of potential students, making it a specific policy objective next year.
It follows a study by the thinktank, which is led by former Downing Street policy adviser James Lloyd, on what factors drive young people’s worries about the cost of going to university.
The study is based on a survey of more than 5,000 young people who achieved Key Stage 4 qualifications (like GCSEs) between 2004-07 and expressed a desire to go to university.
It finds parental education, earnings and occupation are all predictors of young people’s financial concerns with the costs of university.
The children of graduates who are working in non-graduate jobs are much more likely to report worries about the costs of higher education, as were the children of parents who had no experience of higher education, the study says.
Mr Lloyd, director of the Strategic Society Centre, said: “It seems that when young people weigh up the costs and benefits of higher education, the experience of their parents is paramount.
“These results underline the need to get good information on the benefits of higher education to young people, as well as the income-contingent loan repayments introduced by the government.”
The report also recommends more research is done to find out how teachers are advising children about university applications and at what stage in their studies.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, which has backed the research alongside publishing and education company Pearson, said: “The report demonstrates the importance of not jumping to easy conclusions about why young people do or do not go to university, or the impact of considerations about cost on decision-making.
“This is a complex area where the views of parents, teachers and peer pressure have as much influence on young people’s decisions as concerns about costs.
“What we learn from this report is the need for a more sophisticated and thoughtful approach to how we communicate the benefits and implications of going to university, and the life-changing impact that a university education can provide.