One in five able pupils does not apply to university, study finds

31 October 2013

A fifth of pupils who do well in school at age 11 do not go on to university, suggests new research from the Institute of Education, University of London.

Professor John Micklewright and Jake Anders analysed information on 8,000 young people in England who were born in 1989-90. They found that 76 per cent of pupils who had done well in Key Stage 2 tests at age 11 had applied for a university place by age 20. However, this dropped to 66 per cent for able children of less advantaged parents, compared to 85 per cent from more affluent homes.

The finding will disappoint policy-makers, educationalists and charities who have been striving to increase the number of less advantaged teenagers who enter higher education.

“Our findings indicate that there is still too much wasted talent among our less advantaged young people,” says Professor Micklewright, who analysed data gathered by the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE). “Their hopes of applying to university are already much lower than their wealthier peers at age 14, and that gap only continues to widen throughout their teenage years.”
However, prior educational attainment appeared to have more of an impact on teenagers’ university aspirations than family background. Pupils who were in the top 40 per cent of Key Stage 2 scores at age 11 were much more likely than their peers to expect to go to university after completing school. Most of the LSYPE teenagers had high expectations at age 14, with over two thirds saying they were likely to apply to university. About half had actually done so by age 17.

Girls had higher aspirations throughout adolescence, and were more likely to have applied to university by the time they left school. White teenagers in this study were the least likely to expect to go on to higher education, and less than half had applied by age 17. Black African and Indian young people were the most likely to aspire – and apply – to university.

Read the full paper

Teenagers’ changing expectations of applying to university is the latest from the IOE Department of Quantitative Social Science’s working paper series.

About the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE)

The LSYPE follows the lives of about 16,000 young people born in 1989-1990. The study began in 2004 when the cohort members were aged 13-14. Following the first survey, the cohort members were visited every year until 2010, when they were aged 19-20. The next survey is due to take place in 2015 at age 25. The study has collected a wide range of information across different areas of the cohort members’ lives, including education, employment, economic circumstances, family life, physical and emotional health, and social participation and attitudes.

The LSYPE is managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. From 2004-2012, the study was managed and funded by the Department for Education (formerly Department for Children, Schools and Families). Visit

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