The unhappy undergrads

September 25, 1998

At least 150,000 undergraduates are unhappy with their experiences of higher education, a survey reveals this week.

Almost a quarter think they chose the wrong university or course, the report by the British Market Research Bureau has found.

Twenty-two per cent of second-year undergraduates would in retrospect have chosen a different course or institution, while 15 per cent expressed general disappointment with their experience compared to their expectations. This means that "a minimum of 150,000" are unhappy.

Almost 40 per cent of the students surveyed said they believed they were not being equipped with the skills to sell themselves to a potential employer. Of these students, 30 per cent said they lacked management skills while 35 per cent said they lacked the skills specific to their vocation.

The research findings, released this week at a conference on student choices by education information service ECCTIS 2000, has strengthened calls for an admissions system in which students would apply for courses after their A-level results.

Levels of regret among undergraduates were much higher among students who had entered university through clearing. Satisfaction levels were very high in Oxbridge, high in the big civic universities, but lowest in "second-wave universities and higher education colleges".

Kingston University vice-chancellor Peter Scott said that the survey showed that the present pre-results admissions system "is probably a significant obstacle to raising satisfaction levels, because it puts the most pressure on the most vulnerable students".

Higher education minister Baroness Blackstone said that universities must "avoid the temptation to give high priority to achieving number targets".

Clive Booth, chairman of ECCTIS 2000 and the Teacher Training Agency, said that dissatisfaction would increase in the new fee-paying arena unless students were helped to take "a realistic, better informed view of both their own strengths and weaknesses and of the strengths and weaknesses of the institutions".

The survey, of more than 1,000 second-year undergraduates at 20 institutions, on five different types of courses, also showed that 42 per cent of students found that their costs of living were higher than expected; 39 per cent found that their workload was heavier than expected; and 2 per cent of students living away from home expressed reservations about their social life.

Lifelong learning: a survey of second-year undergraduates 1997/98. Contact ECCTIS 2000 Tel. 01242 2526.

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