Top-up teens want more for their money

June 30, 2006

An exclusive poll looks at what sixthformers expect from university.

Jessica Shepherd reports

The top-up fee generation of students want more for their money, including higher standards of teaching from academics, a poll exclusive to The Times Higher can reveal.

The Times Higher-Hobsons UK School Leaver Recruitment Review paints the most detailed picture yet of what today's market-savvy teenagers will demand from their university in a few years' time.

Pollsters asked 12,500 sixthformers aged between 16 and 18 years how far they would travel to university, what they wanted to study and how they would fund their degrees, among other issues.

The survey shows that two thirds of teenagers expect a higher standard of teaching in return for paying tuition fees of up to £3,000 a year.

This is up 4 per cent on last year, when 10,000 sixthformers were asked the same question.

Youngsters also increasingly want campus services to be free. About 32 per cent expect to use gyms and sports grounds without paying, compared with 29 per cent last year. Some 37 per cent want better libraries and computer rooms, although this is 3 per cent lower than last year.

But Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University and chair of the Campaigning for Mainstream Universities lobby group, warned teenagers "you get what you pay for".

He said: "Quality costs and, I think, students need to be wary of a university that offers the earth and charges much less than everyone else.

This shows that academics may well be under more pressure as students become more demanding, but that is not necessarily a bad thing."

Gemma Tumelty, the National Union of Students president-elect, said: "What is of real concern is that we are beginning to see a situation in which a university degree is seen as a commodity - where you get what you pay for.

"This is a very worrying state of affairs that could, particularly if the cap on top-up fees were to be lifted, result in students from poor backgrounds being unable to afford a university degree or able to afford only a 'second-class' education, while those from affluent backgrounds could purchase entry to the top universities."

The teenagers surveyed consider receiving individual attention from lecturers a low priority. Some 19 per cent, the same number as last year, think this will make paying £3,000 top-up fees worthwhile.

Contrary to the orthodox view that more students are living with their parents, the teenagers have no qualms about travelling far from home for university. Some 44 per cent believe the distance does not matter, while 6 per cent say they will live less than an hour away from home.

The poll also exposes how little teenagers know about how they will fund themselves. More than two thirds are not sure whether they will be eligible for bursaries, grants or scholarships.

Teenagers are most likely to study humanities, with 14 per cent saying they would opt for these subjects. Business, art and design followed by medicine, dentistry and psychology, were also popular.

Of those who intend to apply to Russell Group universities, 36 per cent have a mother who went to university. Of those planning to apply to post-92 universities, 26 per cent have a mother who went to university.

The poll was conducted in February and March this year.

jessica.shepherd@thes.co.uk

For the full report contact: Louise Wringe, commercial manager, Hobsons Education Research, 0207 958 5075; louise.wringe@hobsons.co.uk

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