Do I Really Need a Degree? The impact of tuition fee increases on young people's attitudes towards the need for qualifications

Tom Benton

17 February 2012

Since early 2010 the NFER has been providing both primary and secondary schools with a service to allow them to survey their own pupils and parents. Between January 2010 and August 2011 a total of 118 secondary schools and almost 45,000 of their pupils had taken part in the surveys. Midway through this period, on the 3rd November 2010, the government announced plans for universities in England to be able to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees.

As part of the NFER attitude survey, young people in school years 7 to 13 (aged 11 to 18) were asked questions about whether they think they need qualifications to be successful as well as about their attitudes to staying out of debt and saving money. This report briefly explores changes in young people’s responses to these questions since the announced increase in tuition fees and discusses the implications of these results for financial and careers education.

Taken together these findings indicate that the announced increase in tuition fees has had a greater impact on young people’s attitude towards qualifications than on their attitude towards ways of handling their finances. It may be that the apparent negative effect on attitudes could be lessened through wider financial education for secondary school pupils of all ages and their parents focussing on the very clear differences between student loans and other commercial forms of debt. These findings also highlight the importance of good quality careers education in secondary schools so young people have the best available information about the options that are available to them and the qualifications they need in order to enter different occupations.

Key Findings

  • Since the announcement of the increase in university tuition fees, secondary school pupils are now one and a half times as likely to agree that they can be successful without qualifications. This suggests that many young people may now be considering alternatives to higher education to achieve their goals and indeed whether such qualifications are really required at all.
  • Since the announcement of the increase in tuition fees there has been little change in young peoples’ attitudes to the importance of staying out of debt. Currently roughly four out of five young people rate this as “very important”. This may indicate that they could be uncomfortable about the large debts they are being asked to accumulate in order to take part in higher education.
  • Furthermore, although around three-quarters of young people think that it is “very important” to save money for the future there has been no increase in this figure since the announcement of the increase in tuition fees.
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