Fathers and mothers take such an active role in their kids' decisions about where to study that universities have altered open days to give potential students a chance to ask questions on their own. Times Higher reporters witnessed parent power in action at Sheffield University and King's College London.
Parent power was out in force at King's College London earlier this month during an open day for prospective students considering a career in medicine.
Tough questions from mothers and fathers of sixth-formers about the employment destinations of former graduates, the financial costs of higher education and the academic standing of university departments are par for the course during question-and-answer sessions at the university. Parents with students considering higher education study in the capital are acutely conscious of getting a good return for their "investment" given the increasing financial demands in the form of parental contributions to fees and the high cost of living in the capital.
Although choosing a university course is ultimately an individual decision, the application process is becoming a collective experience shared by students and their parents.
Nishma Manek and her parents, Ramila and Philip, said they had attended all the university open days together. "You could only bring one person to King's, but we asked permission to bring along an extra person," Ramila Manek said.
"It has to be a joint decision. The final decision is hers - we need to make an informed choice," she said. "We make notes and take them home and talk about it."
Yousef Salamony felt that having one of his parents present was a great support. He was worried about being able to make a wise decision about universities on his own. "It's important to have your parents' advice; they have more experience and background," he said.
The influence of parents on the admissions process intensifies as students get closer to examination results and the final decisions over which applicants secure places on degree courses.
Open days at King's for students with initial offers from the university now follow a slightly different programme - in response to the growing presence of parents in the university. King's encourages parents to accompany applicants on open days. But a King's spokesperson said: "We've found in the past that parents ask all the questions and not their children."
To address this, King's introduced a programme two years ago in which parents and applicants go to separate events after general introductory presentations. Applicants and parents get to speak to staff members of the departments as well as to current medical students.
"We would not encourage people to come with a friend as so much of the information is targeted towards parents as well," the spokesperson said.
Staff at King's also said that parents frequently contacted them to ask about the admissions procedure for their sons or daughters. Some applicants were too shy or afraid to ring for themselves.
The departments at King's do not give out personal information, such as results of interviews with student applicants, to parents because this is forbidden under the Data Protection Act.
When it comes to results time, some parents become so anxious about their children's prospects that they approach admissions tutors directly about results.
This is "sometimes because their child is distressed because they haven't got the results they wanted", said one staff member at King's, who added that there had been a marked increase in the past couple of years in the number of parents contacting the university.
"It is important for applicants to approach the university themselves. It's not appropriate for someone else to do it for them."
'WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON, WHAT OUR SON CAN EXPECT'
- "As we are financially supporting them, we should have a slight input," said Sheila Griffiths, who was accompanying her son Edward during the open day at King's College London.
Ms Griffiths was just one of a throng of parents who were bombarding King's staff with questions aboutthe medical degree courses that are offered by the university.
- Manjra Fernando was one of several parents who attended the open day in place of their sons or daughters who could not make it. Ms Fernando's son was on an A-level biology field trip.
"My son couldn't come, but I wanted his presence to be felt," she said. "We need to know what's going on and what he can expect.
"I haven't decided anything. My husband and I have been looking into it but we haven't thought about it yet."
They said they were anxious about the opportunities for the future and about the expense involved in studying medicine.