Higher education

Chapter summary: Higher education

A limit to expansion? Attitudes to university funding, fees and opportunities

The coalition government’s approval for a large-scale increase in university tuition fees in England has prompted street protests and contributed to a drop in support for the Liberal Democrats. But the public’s wider views on the expansion and funding of higher education may not be as clear-cut as the political debate implies.

Support for the continued expansion of higher education has fallen in England as the number of university places has increased. Opposition to students paying for tuition and taking out loans to cover their living costs has decreased (though the survey preceded the latest fee increase).

  • Public support for expanding higher education opportunities for young people peaked at 50% in 2003 and has since fallen to 36%.
  • Most (70%) think that some students or their families should pay university tuition fees, and the proportion wholly opposed to them has fallen from 25% in 2007 to 16%. Despite the political uproar following the Liberal Democrat’s post-election change of position on tuition fees, only a small minority of Liberal Democrat supporters are wholly opposed to fees (13%).

Those who are most privileged educationally and economically are less likely to support university expansion, and more likely to support fees.

  • Graduates (30%) are much more likely to support a reduction in the number of university places, than those without formal qualifications (11%).
  • Those who are opposed to tuition fees are more likely to support the expansion of higher education than those who want tuition fees for all (42% compared with 19%).

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