Survey shows fees will be a deterrent

January 23, 2004

Almost two-thirds of students would would have chosen a different university if their first-choice institution had demanded tuition fees of £3,000, a survey revealed this week.

The Unite Student Living Report found that 64 per cent of respondents would have chosen a cheaper course and/or institution if their course had carried the maximum fee proposed in the higher education bill.

It found that 70 per cent of students agree with the statement that the "government is out of touch with the views of students like myself", with ramifications for student voting intentions.

Support for the Labour Party has dropped to a four-year low. Just per cent of those expressing a preference committed to supporting Labour.

The Liberal Democrats, who oppose tuition fees and favour taxing the rich to pay for higher education, were backed by 37 per cent.

The Conservatives, who also oppose tuition fees but who would cut the number of degree places, drew 20 per cent support. Sixteen per cent said they would vote for other parties.

The survey, based on a MORI poll, also found that student debt rose by 43 per cent since 2000, forcing more students to get jobs as soon as they graduate instead of taking time off.

It found that students owed an average of £4,760, an increase of Pounds 157 over the past 12 months, and that more were working part time to pay for essentials rather than supporting lifestyles.

Almost half the students questioned said they would look for employment straight away in a "graduate job", compared with 33 per cent last year.

Thirteen per cent intend to travel.

The survey of more than 1,000 students found that 90 per cent are happy, but they said juggling finances was the worst part of undergraduate life.

Top student bugbears were: having little money (49 per cent); debt (41 per cent); and having no regular income (30 per cent). A third said they had no difficulty keeping up with financial commitments, down from 40 per cent last year.

The majority of students receive financial help from their families, mostly towards the cost of tuition fees. This has resulted in a decline over the past four years in contributions towards living expenses including food, support during the holidays and helping out in a crisis. Students from well-off backgrounds get the most help.

But 14 per cent of students receive no financial support from their parents. This figure rises to 20 per cent for students from working-class backgrounds.

Of those students living with parents, more than a third do so to save money.

The survey found little evidence of increased widening participation since 2000. It said the proportion of students from a working-class background had remained unchanged at about 20 per cent despite 50 per cent of the British adult population being classified as working class.

A divide by social background emerged in the type of university chosen.

Two-thirds of students from an affluent AB household go to an old university, whereas C1 and C2DE students are more likely to study at a new institution. Just over half of AB students considered the academic reputation of a university to be important compared with 39 per cent of C1 and C2DE students.

Nicholas Porter, chief executive of Unite, which provides student accommodation, said: "The survey shows that managing finances and debt have become defining features of the student experience. Many students are reporting a worrying confusion over sources of funding and a lack of financial awareness, leading them to choose expensive forms of debt such as bank loans and credit cards. Despite this, the majority of students still believe that going to university is a worthwhile investment."

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