‘Helicopter’ parents should buzz off, says survey

Students blame parental pressure for dissatisfaction with university choices. Hannah Fearn reports

January 11, 2010

A quarter of London students felt pressured by their parents over their choice of university and degree course, leading to dissatisfaction and boredom, a survey suggests.

In a poll of 350 students under the age of 25 and based in the capital, a quarter said they had argued with their families about their higher education choices.

Of those, four in ten had been told to choose the option their families felt was best for them. This led to the majority (eight in ten) feeling dissatisfied and that they could achieve more if they had chosen another subject.

Even when career counsellors had advised a different course, the research, led by students at the University of Westminster, found that parental pressure won out.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University Management School, said: “The high-pressure parent is a reflection of consumerist values hitting higher education. These parents are paying more, so they think they can demand more… Parents derive status from their children’s success, and the child feels obliged to meet their parents’ expectations.”

Vatsala Bhagat, a third-year media student at Westminster and co-author of the report, said the findings “cannot be ignored” and that universities should take a “corrective step”. For example, they could try to increase parental awareness of the importance of students making decisions about university education independently, she said.

A spokesman for Universities UK said it was “important that students do not rush their choices”. He also acknowledged that “significant improvements are needed in consistency and quality of the information and guidance currently on offer”.

Aaron Porter, vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, agreed with Ms Bhagat that action was needed to tackle overbearing parents.

“It’s time for ‘helicopter’ parents to take flight and students to take charge of their own futures,” he said.


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