The majority of schoolchildren (77%) have plans to go to university, but almost half of them are worried about the cost, according to a survey by the Sutton Trust.
The trust, which aims to combat inequality in the education system, surveyed more than 2,000 11–16-year-olds on their views about going to university.
While the percentage of students planning to go was higher than in 2003 (71%), when the survey began, there was a slight 2% dip compared to last year.
Almost half of pupils who said they planned to go to university (47%) said they were worried about the cost, with fees now set at £9,000 per year.
While the percentage is broadly in line with other years, the Sutton Trust has warned it could increase with the scrapping of maintenance grants for poorer pupils.
Conor Ryan, research director, urged government to monitor the impact of scrapping maintenance loans "to make sure it doesn't deter young people".
The government announced in the 2015 Budget that it would axe maintenance grants for students from poorer households, offering them instead as loans.
This will mean that some of the poorest students could face now having to pay back £50,000 – a greater sum than those who do not need a loan, Ryan warned.
This could have implications later, with these students burdened with debt for longer.
Of those who said they did not wish to go to university, 62% also said they had concerns around finance, with fears this could rise.
Half, however, said they wanted to do something "more practical" than a degree, a quarter said they did not enjoy learning, and 44% said they did not think they were clever enough.
Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust, added: "Our previous research has shown how important aspirations can be in shaping a young person’s outcomes after GCSEs, so it is encouraging to see aspirations remain high.
“However there is still a minority who think that university isn’t for them, or that they aren’t clever enough to go. We know from previous research pupils from poorer households are more likely to be in this group."
He added that the axing of maintenance grants "loads up poorer students with even more debt on top of the current debt levels".
"Even if it does not deter poorer students from applying," he warned, "the debt levels they incur are storing up major problems for them in the future.”
Responding to the survey, a spokesman from the Department for Education told BuzzFeed News its student funding system was "sustainable" and had a "relatively high" threshold before students have to replay the loan.
"It also removes financial barriers for anyone hoping to study – with record numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university last year – and any outstanding debt is written off after 30 years," he said.
“Graduates also enjoy a considerable wage premium over non-graduates and repay their loans in line with income – at a rate of 9% of earnings above £21,000.”
Sara Spary is a consumer business correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Sara Spary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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