The number of students who say it is vital to get a degree has fallen to nearly two in three, survey finds.
Secondary school pupils think confidence and connections are more important for getting on in life than going to university, research from social mobility charity Sutton Trust found.
Only 65 per cent of teenagers agreed that it was “important” to go to university for future success - which has fallen by 10 percentage points since 2018, according to the poll of young people.
And the proportion of pupils who believe studying for a degree is not important is rising - standing at 20 per cent this year, compared with 11 per cent in 2013, the survey shows.
The findings come as as sixth-formers across the country receive their A-level results and find out whether they have secured a place at their first choice university.
A growing awareness of apprenticeships and other high-quality training routes could be behind the changing perceptions in the importance of university among young people, the charity says.
The survey, of more than 2,800 children aged between 11 and 16, also found that youngsters from poorer families are less likely to place importance on attending university than their richer classmates.
There has been a push from government, industry and education leaders to raise the profile of other training routes, such as apprenticeships, in recent years.
Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of young people said they would be interested in doing an apprenticeship rather than going to university, if one was available for a job they wanted to do.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "It's no surprise that young people have doubts about the importance of higher education. Young people face a dilemma.
"If they go on to university, they incur debts of over £50,000 and will be paying back their loans well into middle age. And in many cases they will end up with degrees that don't get them into graduate jobs.
"Young people need better advice and guidance on where different degrees and apprenticeships could lead them, so they can make the right decision regarding their future."
Of the pupils who said it was unlikely they would go to university, the most common set of reasons were that they do not enjoy studying, they had financial concerns or they do not feel clever enough.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is worrying if fewer young people are seeing the importance of going to university. If this is because more students are attracted to the idea of apprenticeships then all well and good.
“But we are concerned that it may be a product of qualification reforms at GCSE and A-level which have put students under a great deal of additional pressure and damaged their confidence and enjoyment in learning, combined with the exorbitant cost of going to university.
“The students most likely to be affected by these factors will be those who face the greatest challenges in their lives and this inevitably impacts upon social mobility.”
A Universities UK spokesperson said: “18 year olds in England, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are more likely than ever to apply to university and on the basis of recent data, universities could see a record entry rate for 18 year olds in the UK this year.
“A university degree brings a whole range of benefits including being more likely to be employed and having higher earnings on average than non-graduates.
“Student satisfaction rates at universities have consistently been at high levels and universities also help students connect with employers during and after their degrees.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have introduced reforms to both higher and technical education so that all young people have quality options available to them no matter which route they choose.
“This includes the introduction of T Levels from 2020, boosting the quality of post-16 qualifications and working with industry to create more high-quality apprenticeship opportunities so more people can gain the skills they need to get on the path to a great career.
“For those who do opt to go to university, the current student finance system is progressive, where students contribute an affordable amount based on their income, not on the interest rate, and any outstanding amounts are written off.”
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