Jobs: One in five parents "partly hope" their offspring don't get costly university place

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Rising costs of university places are causing important changes in behaviour and making some parents hope the financial burden doesn't fall on them, research suggests.

According to a Populus survey by KPMG carried out in December 2011, rising tuition fees and an uncertain jobs market are making higher education a means to getting a good career.

With tuition fees at English universities of up to £9,000 a year coming in this year, the perceived expense involved is driving changes in both student and parental attitudes which could have far-reaching implications for universities, employers and beyond, the survey says.

This is despite loan repayment arrangements in place and maintenance grants for those from low incomes.

The survey of 1,000 people (500 parents and 500 university students or school leavers), revealed that university is now viewed first and foremost as a means to a job: 68 per cent of all respondents said that the most important thing about going to university is to get a qualification that leads to a well-paid job, dwarfing the second most popular response of getting a rounded education (12 per cent). Only five percent of respondents said university was about ‘finding yourself’ and only two percent said it was about ‘having fun’.

Three quarters of parents say increasing fees would be a barrier for their child to go to university. Two thirds of current students said the increase would have been a barrier to them attending, while 69 percent of school leavers planning to go to university feel that the fees could be a barrier.

Despite this, a strong majority still believe that going to university is as important as ever – 71 percent overall, and 78 percent of current school leavers.

Oliver Tant, head of audit at financial services firm KPMG, said: “It’s clear that university is shifting from being the last step in an individual’s education to being the first decisive step in building a career. Whilst we can debate the pros and cons of this, the fact is that young people cannot afford to let the grass grow under their feet in today’s highly competitive environment.”

Student and parent expectations of what universities should provide are rising. Seventy-eight percent of respondents believe that universities need to do more careers services, and 69 percent said they need to provide more timetabled careers advice.

Respondents are also looking to employers to do more. Eighty-nine percent of respondents want to see companies offering more work experience, internships and apprenticeships, while eighty-two percent believe they should offer more sponsored degrees. Three quarters of respondents believe that companies need to put more school outreach and contact programmes in place.

Another effect of the rising costs is to encourage more people to look at other alternatives to going to university. Some 40 percent of parents say they encouraged or are encouraging their children to look at alternatives.

Parents are also doing the most to investigate other possibilities. Two thirds of parents said they are aware of other options such as sponsored degrees, work experience schemes and placements and have explored them at least briefly.

One in five parents (19 percent) admitted that “part of me hopes my child won’t get in or hadn’t got in to university because of the costs I could face.”

Oliver Tant added: “It is really important for young people and their parents to look at all the options available to them.

"Much has been done by government and businesses to open up access to work experience including internships and apprenticeships, and more sponsored degrees and other schemes have sprung into being.

"From KPMG’s perspective, and that of most large employers, we want to choose the best people from the widest possible pool of talent. That’s why it is also crucial for employers to do more to develop programmes that offer credible, quality alternatives to school leavers for whom traditional degree study is not the best match.”