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UPP Foundation and Higher Education Policy Institute Public Attitudes to Higher Education Survey 2022

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

  • Nearly two thirds (64%) support reintroduction of maintenance grants for 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 Higher Education Policy Institute found strong support for maintenance grants, with two thirds of respondents agreeing that maintenance grants should be introduced more systematically for poorer students.

In a poll of 2000 people, 71% of respondents believed the cost of living and economic crisis will deter people from going to university in the next few years, and 57% agree that 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 3 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). By 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 today (2nd February 2023) from 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 towards freedom of speech. This is the second in a series of annual polling on this issue, following the inaugural findings last year.

It found that 77% of respondents agree that universities are important to research and innovation and 57% agreed that they are important to the UK economy as a whole. Support for public investment also remains high – 50% of people agree that university research should receive funding from the taxpayer.

However, a fifth of respondents (22%) agreed with the statement “a university degree is a waste of time”, which rises to 32% of 18-24 year olds – and 58% agreed that “a university degree does not prepare students for the real world”. Only 18% of respondents had visited a university this academic year,  and over half of those from the lowest social grade (DE) have never visited a university at all. 

On questions of freedom of speech, over half (57%) of respondents said that 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 will need 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 activity more visible.”


Additional Notes

  1. UPP Foundation and HEPI commissioned Public First to run the polling and analysis for this report. The previous iteration, ran in 2021, can be found here
  2. Public First polled  1,994 adults over the age of 18 in England between the 26th and 31st of August 2022. The polling sample and questions were related to universities and higher education institutions in England due to the devolved nature of  higher education in the UK.  Research was carried out online, and results weighted to be representative by interlocked age and gender, region and social grade. Quota and weighting targets were matched to those used in the 2021 report to enable comparisons between the answers.
  3. The UPP Foundation was created in 2016 by UPP the leading provider of on campus student accommodation infrastructure and support services in the UK.  The UPP Foundation is a registered charity that offers grants to universities, charities and other higher education bodies.
  4. HEPI was established in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. It is UK-wide, independent and non-partisan, and it is funded by organisations and higher education institutions that wish to support vibrant policy discussions as well as through events.

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