Huw Richards outlines the results of the THES/MORI poll of voters' attitudes to higher education.
How important an issue would you say that higher education is in determining which political party you will vote for in the general election?
Fifty-eight per cent said higher education would be an important issue, with more than a quarter ( per cent) saying it was very important. It mattered particularly to those with children under 15 in their household (63 per cent). Those aged 19 to 24 were least likely to say it is important (50 per cent), with 35 to 44s (65 per cent) and 45s to 54s (63 per cent) at the other extreme.
There were clear party and class effects. Labour supporters (64 per cent) were more likely to say the issue was important than supporters of the Conservatives (58 per cent) or Liberal Democrats (57 per cent). Members of the AB social grouping (68 per cent) were significantly more likely to rate the issue as important than those in C2 and DE (53 per cent). This was a class rather than income effect: 60 per cent of those with household in-comes of more than Pounds 25,000 said higher education mattered against 59 per cent on lower incomes.
When lecturers, in a poll conducted last month for The THES (April 11) by ICM Research, were asked to rate higher education as an election issue on a one to ten scale (ten highest) of importance, 71 per cent rated it six or over.
All students at university should take courses in skills such as communications, numeracy and information technology or computing Such course elements were strongly supported, with just over two-thirds (68 per cent) agreeing. This was particularly pronounced among those who think higher education important (76 per cent against 60 per cent who do not) and those who think government higher education spending is an investment in our future (71 per cent against 50 per cent).
Part-time workers (59 per cent) were much less likely to agree than full-timers (69 per cent) while 19-24s (59 per cent) were the least convinced age group. Lecturer views are in line with public opinion - 67 per cent in the ICM poll rated a core skills element at six or over on the ten-point scale.
Research should be concentrated in a small number of universities while the majority concentrates on teaching Here academic and public opinion conflict. The public supports research concentration by 43 per cent to 28, although more than three quarters of those in favour tend to agree rather than agreeing strongly. Academics do not support it.
Asked in the ICM/THES poll to rate their views on the ten-point scale, three quarters were against.
The 1997 MORI poll, taken in March, showed clear class, income and age differences. Groups who disagreed were class AB (44 to 38 per cent), those with a household income of more than Pounds 25,000 (44 to 35 per cent), 19 to 24-year-olds (33 to 31 per cent) and broadsheet readers (46 to 35 per cent). Social classes C1, C2 and DE were more likely to agree than disagree, with 45 per cent of DEs in favour and 16 per cent against. Older respondents were more likely than younger people to back concentration. Tories (48 per cent) were more likely than supporters of other parties (41 per cent) to agree while Liberal Democrats (35 per cent) were the most likely to disagree.
We should continue to increase the number of students at universities in Britain This was another issue on which public and academics differed. The public favour further expansion by 55 per cent to 21, while academics in the ICM/THES poll were against by 59 per cent to 34.
In the MORI poll, Conservatives (49 per cent) were, in spite of expansion under the Tory government, much less likely to agree than Labour (62 per cent) or Liberal Democrat (60 per cent). Over 50 per cent in all social classes were in favour of more expansion. ABs were significantly more likely to be against expansion (30 per cent) than others (C1 21 per cent, C2 and DE 17 per cent). This seems to be a class, not income effect.
Those who agreed with further expansion were asked: Which if any of the people/ bodies on this list do you think should pay to increase the number of students in Britain ?
The bulk of this group (66 per cent) believe the Government should pay via taxes. This compares to 74 per cent in the ICM/THES poll of lecturers. In the MORI poll, ABs (82 per cent) were particularly keen on government paying, DEs scoring only 57 per cent. But in a poll permitting more than a single answer, ABs were also the most likely of any class to nominate employers (56 per cent: sample average 48 per cent), and at least as likely as others to pick out parents (30 per cent: 28), people who have already graduated (15 per cent: 14), or students (14 per cent: 12) as sources of money.
Among those nominating parents, there was little difference between those with children ( per cent) and those without (29 per cent). There was a clear political effect. Tories were less likely (60 per cent) to advocate government/tax money than Labour (69 per cent) or Liberal (71 per cent) identifiers, and much more likely (41 per cent to 23 per cent Labour and 28 per cent Liberal Democrat) to say parents should pay.
When a similar question but with a narrower range of options was asked in a 1991 poll, conducted by MORI for the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, 50 per cent said the Government should pay all the costs of expansion. Thirty-nine per cent wanted a mix of government and student or family money and 3 per cent said students or families should pay all the costs.
Government spending on higher education is an investment for the future This was overwhelmingly supported by all groups with 87 per cent agreeing, including 53 per cent agreeing strongly. ABs (94 per cent) were more likely to agree than DEs (82 per cent), Labour identifiers (91 per cent) or Conservatives (87 per cent).
The money provided by the Government for teaching university students has not kept pace with the increased number of students at university. This means the amount of money for teaching each student is falling. How much, if anything, would you personally be prepared to pay per year to cover teaching costs for any of your children who may go to university, assuming that you have children under 18 or at university at the moment?
The average, specific amount nominated has risen marginally, from Pounds 1,022 to Pounds 1,050, since a similar question was asked in the MORI/CVCP poll. But direct comparison has to be qualified by the instruction given to 1991 surveyers to aggregate the amount respondents were prepared to pay for all of their children. The largest shift since 1991 is those saying "don't know", up from 35 to 48 per cent, possibly because the 1991 sample was told that the average university course cost Pounds 4-5,000 a year. No figure was given this year.
Twenty two per cent in the 1997 THES/MORI poll were un-willing to pay anything, against 25 per cent in 1991. DEs are more reluctant ( per cent) than ABs (18 per cent). Single people are more unwilling (31 per cent would pay nothing) than those with partners (20 per cent). More Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters (24 and per cent respectively) would pay nothing compared with 14 per cent of Conservatives.
Only 13 per cent, against 22 per cent in 1991, were prepared to pay more than Pounds 1,000 per year. Those living in the Midlands (5 per cent) were less willing than northerners (10 per cent) or southerners (21 per cent) to pay more than Pounds 1,000.
MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,932 adults in 173 sampling points throughout Britain as part of its Omnibus survey. Fieldwork was conducted from March 21-24. All data are weighted to reflect the known population profile.