A rise in fees would deter poorer students from applying for university

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The Independent Online

Many teenagers will turn their backs on a university education if fees are raised to £7,000, research published today suggests.

Four in five young people in England and Wales say they are currently likely to go into higher education, according to a poll commissioned by the Sutton Trust, a seven percentage point increase since 2008.

But any hike in tuition fees following Lord Browne's review this autumn will result in a drop in interest in further study. The Ipsos Mori survey asked 2,700 11 to 16-year-olds how likely they were to attend university if fees are raised. The findings show that just over two in three say they are still likely to go if fees rose to £5,000 a year. But an increase to £7,000 would mean less than half (45 per cent) would be interested in continuing their studies – a figure that drops to one in four (26 per cent) if the fee cap is lifted to £10,000.

Lord Browne's independent review of student funding, which could pave the way for higher fees, is due to report back this autumn. University vice-chancellors previously called for a higher cap, while in its written submission to the Browne review the Russell Group, which represents 20 leading research-intensive institutions including Oxford and Cambridge, called for the tuition fee cap to be lifted incrementally, with institutions able to charge different amounts for different courses.

The Sutton Trust's survey indicates that children from poorer backgrounds are more likely to be the first to turn down university if fees are raised. Seven in 10 of those with two parents in work are still likely to go to university if fees rise to £5,000 per year. This drops to just over six in 10 of those with one parent in work, and 55 per cent of those with neither parent working.

The report raises concerns that young people do not know enough about university choices. Nearly 57 per cent say it doesn't matter which university they go to.

Under the current regime – fees at £3,225 per year – girls are more likely to go to university than boys, while pupils of black or Asian backgrounds are more likely to go than white pupils.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "The survey shows we have more young people than ever who aspire to university, even though there is stiff competition for places. Many will be sorely disappointed – and we must make sure it is not those from poorer homes, already under-represented, who miss out most. The findings are a warning that significantly higher fees may affect university participation."