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New Polling On Attitudes To Higher Education

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Two-thirds of the public in England want the reintroduction of maintenance grants for the poorest students – but only 10% think students should be prioritised for help with the cost of living

Two-thirds of the public in England support the reintroduction of maintenance grants for the poorest students, but only one-in-ten of the public (10%) think students should be prioritised for help with the cost of living:

  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) support the reintroduction of maintenance grants for the poorest students – but support for prioritising students for additional financial support is low.
  • 71% believe the cost-of-living crisis will deter people from going to university over the next two years – but only 26% think that fewer people should be going to university.

New polling from the UPP Foundation ( and the Higher Education Policy Institute ( finds strong support for maintenance grants, with two-thirds of respondents agreeing that maintenance grants should be reintroduced for poorer students.

In a poll of around 2,000 people, conducted through Public First, 71% of respondents said they believed the cost of living and economic crisis will deter people from going to university in the next few years, and 57% agree the Government should provide additional support to students to help them with the cost of living.

But despite this, only 10% of respondents put students among the top three groups they would prioritise for support with the cost of living – compared to 57% for those on minimum wage, 47% for pensioners and 42% for families with young children. In contrast, 63% believe that ‘students should expect to work part time to cover their living costs while at university.’

These findings are part of a new report – Public Attitudes to Higher Education 2022 – published by the UPP Foundation and Higher Education Policy Institute, which looks at public attitudes towards universities and the value of university education, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and views on freedom of speech. This is the second in a series of annual polls, following the inaugural findings last year.

The 2022 survey shows 77% of respondents agree that universities are important to research and innovation and 57% agree they are important to the UK economy as a whole. Support for public investment is also high – half of people (50%) agree that university research should receive funding from the taxpayer.

However, over one-fifth of respondents (22%) agree with the statement ‘a university degree is a waste of time’, which rises to nearly one-third (32%) among 18-to-24 year olds, and 58% agree ‘a university degree does not prepare students for the real world’. Only 18% of respondents had visited a university in the existing academic year, and over half of those from the lowest social grades (DE) had never visited a university at all.

On questions of freedom of speech, over half (57%) of respondents said freedom of speech is currently under at least some threat, compared to just 16% who said it is under no threat.

Richard Brabner, Director of the UPP Foundation, said:

‘It is pleasing to see generally high levels of public support for UK higher education institutions in this second annual wave of polling.

‘However, challenging findings around cost of living – and the lack of support from the public to make students a priority group for financial aid – means it is incumbent on all of us working in the higher education sector to continue to make the case for student access and success.

‘The best way to help hard-pressed students is to link the existing maintenance support package to a more accurate measure of inflation so that it maintains its value.’

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

‘A sustained advocacy job needs to be done either side of the next general election if more people are to understand the true value of higher education.

‘One of the most dispiriting findings is how many people have only very rarely, or never, knowingly visited – or even apparently engaged passively with – a university.

‘It is clear universities need to do more to welcome people onto campus and to make their activities more visible.’

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