Prospective UK students prioritise teaching quality

Winchester polling puts tuition well ahead of research reputation in eyes of teenagers

September 15, 2020
Source: iStock

British teenagers overwhelmingly prioritise teaching quality when asked what is most important about a university, according to a survey.

In the poll of 16- to 18-year-olds, commissioned by the University of Winchester, 45 per cent of respondents said that “excellence in teaching” was the most important value about a university, and 22 per cent identified it as the second most important.

The next most important values – excellence in research and ethical conduct, were identified as top priorities by only 9 per cent of respondents.

The university commissioned the survey to learn about the attitudes of Generation Z – those born between the years 1995 and 2010 – towards higher education, and what it is that they expect from universities. The survey polled 16- to 18-year-olds who had expressed an intention to go to university, and was carried out before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The values of an institution overall were found to be very important to potential students, with 82 per cent saying stated values and perceived values of the institution were very important or quite important to them.

When picking a university, an appealing culture or atmosphere was found to be a crucial influence: 88 per cent said it was an important consideration when making a decision, the poll found. Following that, other important factors that would play into their choice were a university’s ability to help students secure good jobs, having expert staff, its location and its commitment to social justice and equality. 

Upholding their values was found to be important to those surveyed. A significant number – one in nine – said that they would turn down a free grant worth about £50,000 from their institution if they found out the money was to be funded by a large energy company, because doing so would contradict their values.

According to the respondents, the most pressing issues facing the UK currently are the quality of the NHS and climate change – more so than Brexit, the state of the economy or housing. While they think the government is managing the response to the climate crisis poorly, the respondents thought universities, on the other hand, are handling it considerably well.

“We found a generation of young people desperately concerned about the future of the planet, and about our health service,” writes Joy Carter, Winchester’s vice-chancellor, who authored the report. “We found they are worried that the government, and others including universities, were not doing enough about it.

“And we found that while students are still choosing to go to university for relatively traditional reasons, the values of an institution were a significant driver in student choice between universities.”

The report recommends that universities should lead “value-driven debates” on campus and in the wider community, and that they should maintain broader links between subjects in order to tackle global challenges effectively.

It says that universities should “modernise performance metrics” that are meaningful for both students – for example, around teaching – and policymakers.

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Reader's comments (1)

What a person wants/desires, and whether that person can reliably identify it are two separate matters.


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