Disadvantaged pupils could be most likely to suffer from reduction in university courses, new research suggests

Reducing the number of university courses available throughout the country risks “pulling up the drawbridge” from disadvantaged students, a former Universities Minister has said, after new research found that those who are less affluent are most likely to be affected by any cuts.

Those pupils who qualified for free school meals are far more likely to want to study close to the family home, with disadvantaged students also more likely to select their course and place of study based on living costs, according to research from Public First, commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary University Group.

Prospective students from less affluent families were also statistically more likely to be aware of the funding options available to them to complete their course.

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In total, of the 1,000 pupils polled, 46 per cent of those who had qualified to be in receipt of free school meals said they knew for definite what financial support was available to them, compared to only 37 per cent of their peers who had not been eligible for free meals.

File photo dated 16/07/08 of university graduates (PA)

Despite the disparities between those who are better and worse off, and the increasing costs, students were certain that embarking on a university degree would be an experience worth the high bills, with 66 per cent saying that the cost would be worth it, compared to only five per cent who disagreed.

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Former Universities Minister and co-chairman of the APPG, Chris Skidmore, said the polling shows “young people overwhelmingly wish to have the opportunity to study at university and achieve a degree - not simply to achieve a better job or salary, but to fulfil their potential and become a better educated and skilled individual.

“With demand for university places at record levels, we must not place a cap on aspiration by crudely attempting to dictate to the next generation where and what they can and cannot study.

“Pulling up the drawbridge on students who want to learn through reforms that ultimately reduce student choice risks damaging the life chances of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and throwing the government’s levelling up strategy into doubt.

“It is time that policy makers work with and not against the aspirations and ambitions of those who wish to make a better life for themselves.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “There are no plans to limit the growth of the higher education sector, which plays a vital role in giving students the skills and knowledge they need for their future careers.

“Ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to access a world class education remains a top priority, and we expect universities to do all they can to help disadvantaged students.”