The communication of student fees has been described as a "national scandal" as a poll shows 59% of people in England feel they have little or no understanding of the new finance system.

The news comes as thousands are expected to hit the streets today to protest about rising tuition fees. Many wrongly believe they cannot afford to go to university.

From 2012, those starting an undergraduate course at university or college face up to £9,000 a year tuition fees, up from the current maximum £3,375.

But the results of a Yougov poll conducted for the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information found many have no idea on the impact of these fees. In many cases, the cash won't have to be paid back in full.

Existing students, including those who started courses this year, will remain on the current system.

Poll results

Findings from the poll revealed:

  • 79% wrongly think the amount 2012 starters will repay each month when they graduate will be the same or more than today's graduates. Only 21% correctly knew it was less.
  • Fewer than four in ten (37%) correctly know no-one needs to pay the university upfront, and over a quarter (26%) think they have to pay the entire year's tuition fees in advance.
  • 55% of people believe the new system makes higher education less attractive, with only 8% thinking it's more attractive.
  • Only 56% of people know repayments under the new system start once they're earning £21,000, around a quarter (24%) wrongly think it's £15,000, as now.
  • Only half of those who answered (51%) knew the debt is cancelled after 30 years, with 24% believing that once it is taken, it's never wiped.
  • 42% wrongly believe everyone will have to repay at least what they owe, when in fact the amount repaid depends primarily on earnings. Those who never earn over the £21,000 threshold never repay anything.

Fees communication a 'national scandal' creator and head of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information, Martin Lewis, says: "The communication of tuition fees by all parties over the last few years is a national scandal.

"They've left us as a nation ill-equipped and uneducated about how this crucial and very different form of finance works. We need to start a war on this ignorance – after all, if students don't understand the true cost how can they decide if it's worth it?

"While I'm no fan of the changes, the myths and misunderstandings due to the focus on the politics and not the practical finances may well end up more damaging to prospective students' aspirations than the new fees themselves.

"Worse, it's likely many put off by big fees are the more debt-averse from non-traditional university backgrounds – a real threat to social mobility. That's why it's crucial we get the message out that there are no first time students who can't afford to go to university – you only need to pay for it if you earn enough afterwards."

Wes Streeting, deputy chair of the Taskforce, says: "We are particularly concerned that young people from poor backgrounds feel the door to a university education is closed to them. The message needs to be sent loud and clear – university is affordable to anyone from any background who wants to go."

The Taskforce has also launched a student finance app for students to access information on their mobiles and later in the week, the Taskforce's teacher guide will be available to schools in England.