Graduates vote against expansion to avoid diluting value of degree

November 29, 2002

Graduates are keen to protect their "elite" status by preventing too many people from following them to university, according to a report into British social attitudes to be published next week.

The report by Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, and Katarina Thomson, research director at the National Centre for Social Research, shows a "substantial fall in support for the expansion of higher education among those with degrees" between 1994 and 2000.

In 1994, half of graduates thought expansion was a good idea. By 2000, that figure had fallen to 29 per cent.

Professor Wragg says: "It means that people are saying, 'I have arrived so I shall pull up the ladder', or there is a feeling that when they went to university, one in seven entered higher education, and now it is more like one in three and we are reaching saturation point. If more school-leavers go on to higher education, then having a degree loses its status as an automatic passport to a well-paid job."

The study also shows that graduates are a lot less generous when it comes to providing student grants. In 2000, just 19 per cent of graduates thought that all students should get grants, compared with 31 per cent of those educated to A level.

Professor Wragg says: "Those without degrees are more supportive of grants for all students than those with degrees. It is particularly interesting that graduates, who have themselves benefited from a university education and are thus likely to be higher earners, are less supportive of universal grants than those who have not been such beneficiaries. This may be related to anticipated income tax consequences for higher earners and to aspirations for their children among lower earners."

Overall, in 2000 - a year before the Labour Party made its manifesto promise to expand higher education so that 50 per cent of young people would experience it - less than one-third of the population supported further expansion. Two-thirds of the population wanted grants for some students, but support for student loans remained low with less than one-third of the population backing them.

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