Page last updated at 23:07 GMT, Wednesday, 8 July 2009 00:07 UK

'Record numbers' aim for degrees

university lecture hall
Numbers saying they want to go to university are at their highest

Almost eight out of 10 secondary school pupils aim to go to university, a survey suggests.

Research for the Sutton Trust found 77% of students aged from 11 to 16 thought it likely they would go on to higher education, up from 72% in 2008.

Figures on UK university admissions show almost a 10% rise in under graduate applications in the past year.

Opposition parties warn of a looming crisis over places, but ministers say record numbers are going to university.

Traditionally, recessions lead to an increase in applications to universities and colleges, as young people see fewer immediate job opportunities.

The government is committed to increasing the proportion of young people going to university to 50%, but this year has had to lower a cap on extra places from 15,000 to 10,000, increasing the likelihood that more young people will not get the places they want.

Rich and poor

The Sutton Trust's research involved 2,447 pupils.

The proportion saying they aim to go to university is the highest since the charity began its survey, seven years ago.

But there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers saying their parents cannot afford to send them to university - up from 7% in 2008 to 13% this year.

The proportion of pupils who said they did not want to go to university because they wanted to start earning money dropped markedly - from 53% in 2008 to 34% this year.

The report authors said this might be due to the recession.

Researchers also found a gap in the aspirations of children from rich and poor homes.

Among those in families where no parent was working, 66% wanted to go to university, but the figure rose to 79% for young people in families where both parents worked.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: "The survey suggests that efforts to increase participation have been buoyed by the economic crisis and the shortage of jobs, which has made further study a more attractive prospect for many young people.

Sadly, these findings confirm that it continues to be non-privileged youngsters who are least likely to progress
Sir Peter Lampl, Sutton Trust

"While this is good news in some respects, we must ensure we don't build up students' expectations early on in school, only for them to be dashed at age 18.

"Sadly, these findings confirm that it continues to be non-privileged youngsters who are least likely to progress, so efforts to raise the aspirations and achievement of bright students from poorer homes must continue."

The government has been coming under pressure over university places.

It originally estimated that universities in England could take 15,000 additional students in 2009-2010, but reduced this to 10,000 in October, after learning that many more students than anticipated would receive grants to help them pay for their studies.

Phil Willis, a Liberal Democrat MP who is chairman of the Commons select committee covering higher education, has called for the cap on places in England to be lifted.


Universities Minister David Lammy said: "The UK will need more graduates to win the highly skilled jobs of the future so it is encouraging to see that so many young people want to go to university.

"We remain committed to making this ambition a reality for more of them, whatever their background, and we are progressing well towards getting 50% of all young people into higher education with record numbers of students currently at university."

Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, which represents university vice-chancellors, said: "It's very encouraging to see from the Sutton Trust's report that young people from state schools are showing increased interest in higher education. It's vital that this interest results in students taking up places at university.

"Universities agree that anyone with the potential to benefit from higher education should have the opportunity to do so, regardless of background."

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