The proportion of secondary school pupils who think that going to university is not important has almost doubled over the past six years, new research has found.
The results of Ipsos Mori polling for the social mobility charity The Sutton Trust have been released on the day that thousands of 18-year-olds receive their A-level results.
The survey of more than 2,000 11- to 16-year-olds found that just under two-thirds (65 per cent) said it was important to go to university, down from 86 per cent in 2013, while the proportion who said it was not important rose from 11 per cent to 20 per cent over the same period.
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The charity suggested that the trend may be due to a growing awareness of apprenticeships and other high-quality training routes.
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.”
The research also highlights how perceptions of the importance of university differ by social and ethnic background.
It was deemed less important for young people from the least affluent families (61 per cent compared with 67 per cent in "high affluence" households), and white pupils (62 per cent compared with 75 per cent of young people from a BAME background).
The poll also found that this year, 67 per cent of pupils from the least affluent families thought they were likely to go into higher education, compared with 83 per cent in "high affluence" households.
The thinktank Reform said this showed an “alarming aspirations gap”.
Its education lead, Luke Heselwood, said: “Higher education remains the primary route to top jobs and poorer pupils must not be put off from applying, otherwise improving social mobility will remain a pipe dream.”
Education secretary Gavin Williamson thanked teachers and wished good luck to pupils receiving their A-level results.
He said: “Everyone receiving results today should feel proud of their achievements – as should the thousands of teachers that supported them in our brilliant schools and colleges. Today marks the culmination of years of hard work which it’s right to recognise at this time of year.
“Of course, the minds of thousands of young people getting their results will soon turn to the next chapter in their lives, whether that’s a place at one of our world-class universities, earning an apprenticeship or entering the world of work – and I hope every one of them is excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for them and I wish them the very best of luck for their results today.”