One in six students would switch from their first-choice university to a cheaper one if asked to pay top-up fees, according to a new poll.
Early findings of the annual Student Living Survey, released last week to coincide with student protests over government plans to charge higher tuition fees, show that some 16 per cent of students said they would certainly move to a cheaper university if faced with top-up fees. Nearly three-quarters of the 1,000-plus students polled by Mori for the Unite Group said they would at least reconsider their choice of university.
Student leaders said the findings were evidence of the strength of feeling against top-up fees.
Mandy Telford, president of the National Union of Students, said: "The survey findings come as no surprise. Last week more than 20,000 students from all across the country marched through London to show their opposition to top-up fees.
"Students know that top-up fees would have deterred them from going to university, and they know that their younger siblings would have to reconsider going to university if top-up fees were introduced. Entry to higher education must be based on academic ability, not the ability to pay. The government must rule out top-up fees in the coming white paper and find a solution to the increasing student hardship.
But the findings highlighted the difference in attitudes towards higher fees between those who went to university from private schools and those who came from the state sector. Almost half of students from private schools said that top-up fees would not have affected their choice of univer-sity, compared with 18 per cent of students from state schools.
When asked directly about their attitudes to top-up fees, just 4 per cent of students described them as "acceptable". But indicating a level of confusion over the government's plans, 22 per cent said that charging higher tuition fees to wealthier families would be acceptable. It is understood that under ministers' plans, those unable to afford fees would be exempted or given a bursary.
Support for a graduate tax was also limited to 7 per cent of students, with 13 per cent preferring an increase in basic income tax for everyone.