Just 25 per cent of 1,000 parents polled by OnePoll felt higher education was primarily valuable for its own sake, while 60 per cent felt children should go to university because it improved their job prospects.
The online poll of parents with children aged 11 to 17 also found 32 per cent of people believed higher education would result in their children getting a better job, while 28 per cent felt it would lead to them having a successful career.
The poll was commissioned by the New College of the Humanities, which is due to open in Bloomsbury in September and will charge £18,000 a year.
Led by the atheist philosopher AC Grayling, the institution is set to run eight undergraduate courses in the humanities, covering five areas: law, economics, history, English literature and philosophy.
Students will also complete a diploma in professional skills alongside their degree, which is designed to improve capabilities in problem solving, working in teams and numeracy.
Jane Phelps, director of external relations at New College of the Humanities, said: “Where once university was seen as an opportunity for further education for its own sake, parents are increasingly concerned about their children’s employability prospects at the end of their studies.
“But a quarter of parents still felt that the principal reason for their children to go to university is to gain a higher level of education for its own sake – to broaden their minds, to study, and to learn more about a subject that is their passion.”
Two thirds (66 per cent) of parents felt that universities prepared students for the workplace, with 31 per cent believing they do this well and 35 per cent saying it was satisfactory. However, under a quarter (24 per cent) of parents said universities do not prepare students well.
The poll also found that the majority (51 per cent) of parents believed having a degree remained a good investment for their children, while just a fifth (21 per cent) said it was not.