Price worth paying for debt-free graduates

January 6, 1995

(Photograph) - Public opinion seems to favour students from well-off families paying some of their tuition costs. Details of this week's MORI poll appear below, with a survey of readers' views and a glance at earlier polls.

Public opinion is firmly in favour of making students from better-off families contribute to their tuition fees, but also feels even more strongly that students should be allowed to study without building up debts, a new MORI poll commissioned by The THES has shown.

The poll -- based on interviews with a sample of 1,824 adults aged 15 and over in 144 parliamentary constituencies between December 1-5 last year -- also rejected the proposition that most academic research is useless. But MORI found opinion more evenly divided as to whether universities have a vocational purpose.

Four questions were asked (all figures percentages): It is not the purpose of a university to train people for jobs Strongly agree 9 Tend to agree 24 Neither 12 Tend to disagree 32 Strongly disagree 21 Don't know/No opinion 2 Most responses were clustered around the 3-2 proportion of disagreement to agreement. Even so there was one striking finding -- the attitude of students.

Their overall agreement level of 28 per cent is lower than for any other group, whether measured by class, gender, age, politics or newspaper reading habits.

Stereotypes of the North having a broadly more vocational view of education are con firmed by a 30 per cent agreement rate against 35 per cent for the South.

There were broad age trends -- the older the respondent, the more likely to accept the proposition (apart from those aged 65 and over) -- and class divergencies with ABs (39) much more in favour than DEs (33) or C2s (30).

Class differentiation was further reflected in newspaper readers -- quality readers were 39 per cent (dailies) to 41 per cent (Sundays) in agreement against the 32 per cent (dailies) to 33 per cent (Sundays) figure for their tabloid counterparts. Political allegiances made little difference.

Students from well-off families should contribute to tuition costs Strongly agree Tend to agree 41 Neither 9 Tend to disagree 14 Strongly disagree 7 Don't know/No opinion 2 A distinct age trend emerged here -- the older the respondent, the more likely they were to agree, rising from 58 per cent in favour among the 15-24 group to 73 per cent among 55-64s and 80 per cent for over 65s.

A similar, gentler class trend found 61 per cent of ABs in favour, rising to 72 per cent among DEs.

Only 19 per cent of the ABs were strongly in favour against 32 per cent at the other end of the socio-economic scale.

Students were the least enthusiastic, although still with 52 per cent in favour, while respondents with children (63) were noticeably less in favour than those without (70).

Liberal Democrats (71) were more in favour than other political groups -- Conservatives produced a figure of 67 per cent, Labour 68 per cent. There were minimal regional variations.

Most research carried out by university staff is a waste of time Strongly agree 3 Tend to agree 12 Neither 17 Tend to disagree 36 Strongly disagree 24 Don't know/No opinion 8 This proposition was overwhelmingly rejected by all groups -- academics may be particularly reassured to know that only 9 per cent of students believe their research is a waste of time.

But there was a significant class and newspaper readership effect at the margins.While only 8 per cent of ABs agree, 19 per cent of C2s and 17 per cent of DEs do.

Similarly only 7 per cent of readers of quality newspapers agreed, against 18 per cent of tabloid readers.

Liberal Democrat supporters emerged as the most critical political group -- 19 per cent agreed against 18 per cent of Conservatives and 14 per cent of Labour voters.

Regional variations were again minimal. MORI notes that opinion on this question has been stable in the past three years.

Students should be allowed to study without building up debts Strongly agree 50 Tend to agree 33 Neither 7 Tend to disagree 6 Strongly disagree 1 Don't know/No opinion 3 Within the context of overwhelming agreement, this question produced a degree of political divergence -- with a 75 per cent agreement rate for Conservatives compared to 87 per cent for Labour and 88 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.

ABs were relatively likely to disagree -- scoring 10 per cent disagreement against 5 per cent for C2s and 6 per cent for DEs.

And there was some regional variation -- 81 per cent agreement in the Midlands compared to 86 per cent in the North and 82 per cent for the South.

Students were 94 per cent in agreement -- 68 per cent strongly so -- with 4 per cent disagreeing.

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