Less than half of British adults surveyed for a Universities UK poll said that they felt positively about the country’s higher education institutions.
Forty-eight per cent of the 2,000 people polled said that their sentiment around universities was positive, and 31 per cent said they were neutral. Only 9 per cent said that they felt negative about universities, with 13 per cent answering “don’t know”.
Only a minority said that they felt well informed about universities’ impact: 9 per cent said that they felt informed to a great extent about universities’ impact on the UK as a whole, with 53 per cent answering that they felt informed to some extent.
In workshops held in eight cities around the UK, “it was apparent that the majority of people rarely think about universities, largely finding the sector irrelevant”, a UUK report says.
The report says that universities were primarily seen as a mechanism for improving employment prospects: 61 per cent of survey respondents agreed that a degree was only worth it if it would help you get a better job.
But 58 per cent of respondents agreed that universities did not equip graduates with the skills they needed to be successful in the workplace; and 46 per cent agreed that the expense of going to university outweighed the benefits of doing so.
Nevertheless, 55 per cent of respondents agreed that people who went to university got better jobs than those who don’t, and two-thirds (66 per cent) said that, if they had children, they would encourage them to go to university.
There was a high level of pride in the sector: around 70 per cent agreed that British universities were among the best in the world and that they could play an important role in meeting the challenges that the UK faces. However, members of the public “have little real evidence to support this, beyond pointing to iconic Oxbridge institutions”, the report says.
Dame Janet Beer, president of UUK and vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, argued that the results showed that the public was “hugely positive towards universities and see the benefits of a university education”.
“There is a myth that the public are sceptical about the merits of universities – and that an increasingly large number of young people think higher education is a waste of time. In fact, as this research shows, the opposite is true,” Dame Janet said.
Dame Janet said that politicians “need to work with the higher education sector to extend the number of people accessing universities and to give more support for flexible learning, promoting pride in what is a world-class sector, rather than creating new obstacles”.