Student debt is halting less well off pupils from going to university – new poll

The data suggests a university education is becoming the preserve of the wealthy and privileged.

The number of young people from ‘low affluence’ households who say they’ll go to university has fallen to its lowest level in seven years, most citing the high cost of higher education, new polling has found.

Only 61 per cent of young people from ‘low affluence’ households believed they would enter higher education, the lowest level since records began seven years ago, data released today by the Sutton Trust and Ipsos MORI showed.

66 per cent of young people from ‘low affluence’ households said they had concerns about student debt and finances compared with 46% of young people from ‘high affluence’ households.

The reason for this fall appears to be the staggering cost of higher education — the average graduate is now being saddled with £50,000 worth of debt, the IFS found recently.

Looking at the figures overall, the numbers are also dropping: just under three-quarters of young people (74 per cent) said they thought they’d go into higher education, down from 81 per cent five years ago.

A decade ago, eight per cent of young people thought that it was unlikely that they would go into higher education. That figure has risen to 14 per cent in this poll of 11-16 year-olds.

Of young people who said they were likely to go to university, over half (51 per cent) said they were worried about the cost of higher education, up 4 per cent on 2016 figures.

The Sutton Trust commented on the polling results:

“The Sutton Trust is urging the Government to reform the student funding system, means-testing fees so poorer students face lower fees and graduate debt, restoring maintenance grants and introducing a fairer repayment system.”

This survey appears to confirm other recent data that’s showed a drop in university applications from less traditional backgrounds. Last month actual admissions data showed applications from black and minority ethnic students were down 9 per cent.

We can’t let our universities slip back into being places only accessible to the wealthy and privileged. We can do this by scrapping a clearly failing tuition fee system and reinstate bursaries for those from less well off backgrounds, but we have to act now.

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