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State school pupils lack advice on going to university, study finds

The perceived cost of university education, no guarantee of a job and poor advice and guidance is putting key groups of young people off higher education, a survey has found.

A report on the findings of the study conducted by ComRes and commissioned by the University and College Union shows that young people’s main concerns about going to university are the cost and worries about debt and career prospects.

But the barriers to entering HE are greater for those in lower social classes attending state schools who are less likely to receive advice on university options than their wealthier privately educated peers.

The survey found a close link between social class, gender, age, and school and attended, and the level of interest in going to university. ComRes polled 2,006 young people aged 13 to 17 and found that four-fifths (78 per cent) of pupils at private school said they wanted to go on to higher education after school or college, compared to just three in five (62 per cent) state school students and less than a third (31 per cent) of college students.

Young people are more likely to say they want to go on to higher education than their older contemporaries. Two-thirds of 13 and 14 year olds reported wanting to go to university, compared to around half of 16 and 17 year olds. Just over half of young men (55 per cent) planned to go to university compared with nearly two thirds of young women (63 per cent).

UCU said the report highlighted how important the advice young people received was in terms of their desire to go to university. Just a third (31 per cent) of young people said they had been to an open day at a university or college, but almost all of those who had (95 per cent) said they had found the experience useful.

Social class and school attended is also associated with the level of information young people received. Almost one in five (17 per cent) of pupils in social grade DE reported receiving no advice or guidance about the different options available to them when they leave school or college, compared to just one in 10 (9 per cent) of pupils in social grade AB. Those who said they received no advice or guidance are most likely to attend state school (15 per cent), compared to 5 per cent at private schools or sixth form colleges and 7 per cent of college students.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “Worryingly, class, gender and schooling still play far too large a part in whether or not young people even consider university, with boys from state schools and the poorest economic backgrounds faring worst. This report highlights how young people are worried by the perceived cost of university and further hindered by a lack of good advice.

“If everyone is to benefit, young people need to be persuaded that continuing in education is a viable option. Young people should have access to high quality independent advice on their future irrespective of gender, background or the type of school they attend.

“For too many young people university remains an alien prospect. Teachers do a fantastic job, but we want to see a comprehensive package that includes national careers advice for all and taxpayer support for an expansion of outreach work in the community by universities and colleges.”

Commenting on the report, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: "Following sustained efforts in the past decade, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are now more likely than ever to get to university.

"Despite this progress, there is still much work to do to narrow the gap in higher education participation between the most and least advantaged. The report is quite right to highlight how important it is for young people to have access to high quality information, advice and guidance to enable them to make informed choices about their future.

"In response to OFFA's guidance, universities and colleges are increasingly working closely with schools in a sustained, targeted manner to help raise aspirations and attainment among those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The opportunities offered by higher education can be life-changing, and nobody with the talent to benefit from further study should be put off because of their family background or income."