A post-Blair generation?

August 6, 2004

Student survey shows a sea change

The typical early 21st-century undergraduate is likely to be a Liberal Democrat-voting, Sun -reading party animal who works part time in a shop and aspires to a career in advertising or the media, according to the latest research.

This is the picture painted by researchers who canvassed the opinions of a panel of 1,000 undergraduates from more than 171 universities in search of insights into their attitudes and lifestyle, ranging from their fondness for fast food to whether they thought the Prime Minister should stand down.

Worryingly for the Government, they found a free-fall in Labour Party support on campuses in the wake of the final House of Commons vote in March on the Higher Education Bill to extend tuition fees and introduce new bursaries. Two- thirds of students said they intended to vote at the next general election, but a third said that their party-political sympathies had changed because of the Government's plans for fees.

Labour could count on about 39 per cent of the student vote before the fees vote, but this has dropped to 20 per cent since the Government got its way on fees.

Almost half of the students surveyed - 49 per cent - said Tony Blair should stand down. And, although the survey did not reveal why students thought Mr Blair's time had come, issues such as fees and the war in Iraq clearly played a part.

By contrast, the Liberal Democrats, who have consistently opposed tuition fees, ought to be able to count on 47 per cent of student votes, according to the survey. Twenty-three per cent said they would vote for the Conservatives.

The research was carried out by Opinionpanel Research, which recruited a representative sample of students across the country to take part in regular online surveys.

Although The Guardian is a popular choice of newspaper across the sector, researchers found that The Sun is the preferred daily read on the campuses of post-92 universities - with more than one in four students saying it was the newspaper they read most often.

The Times is the first choice among students at old universities, with .5 per cent of students saying it was their preferred newspaper. However, all students are more likely to read a broadsheet as they progress through their degree.

Students at post-92 universities do more paid work than those at old universities, working longer hours and enjoying higher hourly rates of pay.

A typical new university student earns £77.60 a week compared with Pounds 58.70 for a typical student at an old university, according to the survey.

Of part-time jobs, about 33 per cent were in retailing, and 17 per cent in bar work.

Nine per cent of students supplement their income by taking on work for the university, and 6 per cent have jobs in call centres.

Nevertheless, 37 per cent of the students said they aspired to spend their university career as if it were "one long party". But 30 per cent said that they often "felt alone".

Three quarters of students said that their reason for going to university was the hope of getting a well-paid job after graduation. There was wide variation in what they thought their first salary would be: 15 per cent expect to earn less than £13,000 a year, while 7 per cent believe they will pocket more than £,000.

Advertising, public relations and media jobs were the most coveted careers - about one in four students aspire to jobs in those fields. Although working in education was ranked third in the students' top ten jobs, a career in higher education was ranked 13th. Only 8 per cent said they hoped to be an academic.

The research reveals that sixth-formers typically attend open days at three universities before choosing which to apply to. But 17 per cent pay no visits at all before making their choice.

Students from poor backgrounds were 10 per cent more likely than their more affluent counterparts to live with their parents while studying.

The research belies the image of students as hard drinkers. It found that students visit the pub typically twice a week but indulge in fast food about three times every fortnight.

paul.hill@thes.co.uk

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