Pupils in secondary education are more likely to be influenced into applying to university by future lifestyle benefits rather than reassurances about their finances.
A report from the Behavioural Insights Team in collaboration with the Somerset Challenge, a partnership of schools, found that pupils were less interested in attending university after hearing information from successful students outlining the new tuition fee system and repayment rates.
The study, based on trials with pupils across 19 secondary schools in Somerset, took place across 2014-15. It targeted pupils from years ten to 13 with strong academic credentials and good A Level results who did not intend on continuing with higher education.
However the pupils based in Somerset, the county with the highest rates of academic pupils unwilling to progress to university, were found to be more engaged with the prospect of university by talks that focused on the social and personal rewards of student life.
The trials intended to raise pupils’ aspirations and dispel myths about higher education by supplying them with information missing from the average university talk. This involved providing pupils with evidence that having a degree increases lifetime income by £200,000.
Conversely, this knowledge made pupils report an ever lower rate of interest in applying to university. Even when the same information was passed along to parents it was noted as not seeming to have a, “significant effect”.
Students at Warwick have mixed opinions on the report’s findings.
Rachael Darlison, a third-year History student, disagreed with the report:
“Despite the fact that other factors aided my decision to attend university, the first and foremost factor which swayed me was the reassurance that I could afford to attend. This perhaps made a dream into a reality.
“Other aspects which contributed to my choice, such as hearing stories of successful students, were merely secondary.”
However, third-year Maths student Sam Walker, who lives on the border of Somerset, agreed with the pupils in the trial: “Whilst I took financial information about university into account, hearing about the lifestyle benefits of university helped me choose Warwick.
“I was more ready to leave home on my own after understanding how it would be beneficial for me socially and personally.”
Michael Sanders, head of research and evaluation at the Behavioural Insights Team, commented: “Some of the received wisdom on why young people do not attend university may not have been entirely accurate. Emotional and social factors also play an important role.”
The Behavioural Insights Team will continue with their research into the decisions motivating young people to attend university across 2015-16.