At the age of 11, more pupils from poorer, rather than more affluent, backgrounds have ambitions to study at university, research shows.
A survey of Year 7 pupils in England, carried out by Westminster University on behalf of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, found that 85 per cent of pupils from areas of high deprivation want to go to university against 66 per cent of better-off students.
However, there were geographical disparities, with higher proportions of pupils from urban areas expressing a desire to study at university compared with those from rural areas.
The findings coincided with the release of the Westminster Government's new careers information, advice and guidance (IAG) strategy this week, launched with the help of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. It will develop career advice for primary pupils as a way of encouraging ambition.
The researchers said: "By Year 7, young people have clearly developed ideas of occupational hierarchy. There is a very strong association between success and university attendance and, in particular, participation in courses associated with professional occupations.
"This view of success is common to young people who do not want to go to university as well as those who do, and to different types of schoolsocial background."
The Year 7 pupils are the first cohort to be affected by the changes to school participation age which will mean that students stay on until 17 by 2013 and 18 by 2015.
The new IAG guidance sets out to provide careers education up to the age of 18, while piloting schemes to give careers advice in primary school. It will also forge links between primaries and universities, as well as providing every young person with access to a mentor.
Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, said: "A radical change is needed in the way careers advice and education is delivered. Many people have anecdotal experiences of really bad careers advice and often say that, if they had their chance again, they would have done something different."
Sir Alex added: "All sorts of people can influence children in their career choices, but it is important that teachers, parents and businesses spot talent early on and nurture young people to achieve the best they can."
Widening primary pupils' horizons, page 15.