Fees ARE putting the most disadvantaged young people off university, says new report

Contrary to previous reports, UCU report finds that increased fees are putting the most disadvantaged young people off university.

Contrary to previous reports, UCU report finds that increased fees are putting the most disadvantaged young people off university

Cost, poor advice and a perceived lack of jobs are putting young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds off higher education, warns a report from the University and College Union (UCU) out today.

It seems that the way in which successive governments have promoted higher education as an instrumental tool to better jobs, salaries and outcomes is now coming home to roost.

Young people now make the decision on whether or not to go to university in the context of £9,000 annual fees, rising unemployment and a gruelling loan scheme. Those who decide not to progress seemingly reject this rationale.  

Contrary to evidence suggesting that the increase in tuition fees is not deterring young participants from participating in higher education, the findings in this research suggest that finance does play a key role in the decision making process and that the system is certainly not failing children from affluent backgrounds.

The report shows how a young person’s background is a strong predictor of their likelihood of going to university. This pattern is observed across school type, social grade, gender, age, qualification level and occupation.

Privately educated young people are twice as likely to want to go to university as those attending a state school, and only three in ten college express a desire for further study. Two-thirds of those from social grades AB say they plan to go on to higher education, compared to just half of those from social grades DE.

Young men are significantly less likely to express aspirations to progress to higher education than young women and two-thirds of younger learners say they want to progress to higher education compared to half of older learners. The decline in desire to progress to higher education across the age range is steeper for young women than for young men.

It is noteworthy that the desire to progress to HE is less prominent among those who work part-time. Those who have a part-time job for 11 hours or more per week were more likely than those who attend school or college full time to say that they want to avoid debt, and say that that the expense of university is a barrier to higher education for them.

Ultimately, combinations of these characteristics prevail to entrench the patterns of disadvantage we see in our society and restrict access to the personal and social benefits of higher education.

The report also shines a light on the problems with our information, advice and guidance system. The guidance young people do receive is also heavily dominated by their background and not all young people have access to the tools to make the best decisions for their future. 

The ways in which young people receive advice and guidance is still far too haphazard. Three-fifths of young people say that they have not spoken to a careers advisor, seven out of 10 have not visited a university or college and 90 per cent have never spoken to a business professional.

Higher education remains an unexplored concept for far too many young people. We are calling for a complete overhaul of careers education. All young people must have access to clear and dedicated information, advice and guidance which includes expansive outreach work by colleges and universities in the community.

We need to see a far more radical and open collaborative model and the government should provide taxpayer funding to support this.

Unless we act decisively now, we risk a generation of young people making decisions about their futures based on inadequate advice and condemning them, and particularly youngsters from the poorest backgrounds, to the scrapheap through no fault of their own.

Angela Nartey is a policy officer at the University and College Union

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