Many teenagers will turn their backs on a university education if fees are raised to £7,000, research suggested today.
Four in five young people in England and Wales (80%) said 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 (68%) say they are still likely to go if fees rose to £5,000 a year.
But an increase to £7,000 would mean than less than half (45%) would be interested in continuing their studies - a figure that drops to one in four (26%) 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 teenagers from poorer backgrounds are more likely to be the first to turn down university if fees are raised.
While seven in 10 (71%) 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 (63%) of those with only one parent in work, and around half (55%) of those with neither parent working.
If fees go up to £7,000, less than half (47%) of youngsters whose parents both work are likely to go into higher education, compared to one in three (35%) of young people who have no parent working.
The report also raises concerns that young people do not know enough about university choices.
Nearly six in 10 (57%) say it doesn't matter which university they go to and that it is getting a degree that matters. More than seven in 10 (71%) said they would like to know more about if their future salaries could differ depending on the institution they go to.
Under the current regime - with fees standing at £3,225 per year, girls are more likely to go to university than boys (82% compared to 77%), while pupils of black or Asian backgrounds are more likely to go than white pupils (89% and 90% compared to 79%).
Amongst those questioned who said they are not likely to go on to higher education, the biggest reasons given were that they wanted to do something practical (45%) and that they wanted to start earning money as soon as possible (45%).
Nearly one in four (38%) think they are not clever enough.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "The survey shows we have more young people than ever before who aspire to university, even though there is already stiff competition for places. Many pupils will be sorely disappointed - and we must make sure it is not those from poorer homes, already underrepresented in higher education, who miss out most.
"The findings are also a warning that significantly higher fees may affect university participation. If Lord Browne's review concludes that higher fees are necessary, there is a significant task ahead in ensuring that all young people - and particularly those from non-privileged homes - are equipped with the information they need to make well-informed decisions."
A Government spokesman said: "All these matters are being investigated by John Browne as part of his review of student finance. The coalition programme makes it clear that the criteria for any reform include increasing social mobility and attracting a higher proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds."
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