Students' rosy outlook blamed as two thirds shun university careers advice

October 8, 2009

Hindsight may be a wonderful thing, but for the Class of 2009, more forethought would have stood them in better stead post-graduation, according to new research.

The Futuretrack study run by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (Hecsu) surveyed almost 50,000 students in higher education finishing their first year or starting their second in 2007.

The findings reveal that almost two thirds had not visited their university careers service at this stage in their degrees.

Jane Artess, director of research at Hecsu, said: "Students usually have a pretty rosy outlook when starting university, with an initial focus on making friends, social activities and having fun.

"It is concerning to hear that despite the importance of early career planning being extensively reported and the wide availability of resources, the majority of students lack a long-term perspective.

"We can now see those same students entering the workplace immensely underprepared for a job hunt during a recession."

Those students who had gone to university because they viewed it as "the normal thing to do" without a great deal of thought about future employment were most likely to say that their career aspirations were no clearer than when they started their degrees.

Kate Purcell, professor at the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick, which conducted the research on behalf of Hecsu, said: "Despite the efforts made by higher education institutions to encourage students to consider options and explore sources of information and guidance from the outset of their studies, the majority had made little effort to investigate the resources available to them."

The findings, to be published in detail next month, also reveal that 80 per cent of students think their university tuition is excellent. They spend an average of 15 hours a week in classroom-based formal-teaching sessions and 13 hours on non-timetabled work. Those studying architecture, building and planning are most likely to find the work harder than they had expected.

The research also shows that the parents of almost half the students surveyed (48 per cent) do not have degrees.

Meanwhile, new results from an HSBC/National Union of Students study examining students and employment suggest that many students who seek jobs do so to earn spending money rather than to pay their way through university.

Sixty-four per cent of students say they had, or intended to take on, paid employment during the academic year, with 32 per cent opting for term-time jobs. However, the most common reason cited for working is paying "for extras such as clothes or holidays" (67 per cent).

Even so, more than 33 per cent state that their basic costs exceeded the amount they could borrow and that they work "to pay for books and other equipment".

In term time, students work an average of 12 hours a week, and 43 per cent state it had affected their studies. Thirty per cent of final-year students said they had changed their post-graduation plans as a result of the economic climate.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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