Westerners sceptical of value of higher education – global poll

Survey finds Chinese most appreciative towards their universities

June 29, 2020
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People in Western nations are broadly doubtful about the value that universities represent in their lives, and are especially sceptical about their contributions to reducing societal inequality, a global poll has found.

The survey of more than 10,000 people in 11 countries, by Ipsos MORI and the Policy Institute at King’s College London, showed appreciation for universities ranging from overwhelming in China to decidedly equivocal in the US and Europe.

More than 90 per cent of those contacted in China felt that their universities benefited their country, and nearly as many felt that the institutions helped them personally. About half of those in the US and France saw the national benefit, and fewer than 40 per cent there and in the UK felt that way personally.

In particular, the survey showed that Westerners were largely doubtful that the benefit of higher education justified the cost, even as they admitted college did usually produce higher earnings.

King’s arranged the online survey, conducted between 20 March and 3 April, to coincide with an annual lecture series hosted by US-UK Fulbright Commission.

The commission is set to hear this year from Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, who suggested that the low levels of gratitude for higher education found by the survey reflect a “significant gap between perception and reality”.

“Hard data reveal that universities actually provide lifelong advantages in opportunity and income for graduates while boosting economic growth,” Ms Napolitano said.

Whether perception or otherwise, the pessimism appears especially strong in the US, where 36 per cent of respondents agreed that the benefits of college outweighed the expense, and another 36 per cent felt the opposite.

Only 35 per cent of US respondents said that they believed universities generally helped to reduce problems of inequality in their country, with most other Western nations also registering below 50 per cent.

Respondents in China, by overwhelming percentages, and in India, by clear majorities, took the opposite view on most questions. Nearly 90 per cent in China and 65 per cent in India regarded their universities as reducing societal inequality.

People in those two countries, along with those in Brazil and Italy, also were most likely to agree that the benefits of university outweigh the financial costs.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

The results of this study aren't surprising, considering that many people from all classes view universities as sources of division in their societies. The dominance of anti-enlightenment ideas from postmodern philosophy have fuelled the propagation of divisive anti-rational identity politics that destroys free speech and the market of ideas that universities are supposed to foster.
Just so, Tom. You have hit the nail on the head.
The ongoing hitherto unresolved issue of whether or not university graduates contribute to their country's economic growth can be easily answered if research is done to find out a.) What percentage of the adult population has completed a first degree within the last three years; what percentage was qualified but could not even gain entry to a first degree program for financial and other reasons and what percentage did not even qualify to enter such programs; b. ) for the categories identified in (a) what kind of jobs are they currently doing; c.) what is the primary motivation of first degree graduates : is it the salary for the job, a desire to serve the society; is it self serving or society first? d.) To what extent their first degree programs prepared them for the job they have been doing it did they learn to the job while they were employed? e.) to what extent their jobs contribute to the growth in GDP, provide more goods and/services for families or improvements in agriculture, education, trade, financial services, poverty or unemployment reduction, expansion of SMEs? Let us stop talking about their contribution and do the research to unearth the real facts.

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