University education: At £ 9,000 a year, parents are starting to question its value | Tuition fees

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Parents find it difficult to reconcile conflicting views about the value of higher education to their children: more than half think a fee of up to £ 9,000 a year is poor value for money, but a majority still see a traditional college education as the best path to a chosen career, according to a YouGov poll.

A survey of parents from all walks of life of secondary school-aged students in England and Wales, commissioned by the Guardian, shows that only 14% think tuition is a bargain, while almost 60% think that degrees are not worth the money.

It also suggests that parents are now open to cheaper alternatives to the conventional full-time college route: a majority (57%) said internet courses in which students watched online courses were a good idea, and almost half were in favor of apprenticeships.

The poll also highlights the lingering social divide that determines whether a young person goes to college. Eight in 10 families with an annual income of over £ 50,000 expect their child to apply for college, but that figure drops to 56% when parents have incomes below £ 20,000. The “hereditary” element of higher education persists: three quarters of parents with diplomas believe their children will apply, but only 46% of those who left school at 16 see their children in university.

The results, unveiled at the Guardian University Forum in London, confirm families’ deep concern over the cost of going to college. Once living costs are factored in, costs are estimated to be over £ 50,000 for a three year course.

But to give an indication of the troubles parents face, the survey also suggests that two-thirds of parents still believe the traditional full-time college model is an effective way for their offspring to enter the career of their choice – despite its costs. Many will have an eye on the employment figures showing that more than 20% of those under 25 are unemployed, mostly non-graduates.

Two-thirds of 1,100 parents of a child aged 11 to 17 rated a traditionally on-site course at a university as a good path to a preferred job – placing a full-time degree well above others options such as an apprenticeship, online degree or professional qualification. Support wasn’t just a matter of pragmatism: even more parents (69%) told pollsters they believed university should be valued for itself and not just as a route to employment.

Despite their skepticism about the cost of degrees, almost as many parents – 63% on average across all walks of life – believe their child will apply to college, suggesting that aspiration always trumps financial concerns. Currently, around 49% of young people pursue higher education after a dramatic expansion in recent years.

But, while mainstream university studies clearly continue to be valued by parents, the survey also points to a rooted social divide in attitudes toward higher education, one that persists despite political attempts. led for a generation to reverse it. In total, 72% of parents from upper social classes think university is a good path to a preferred career for their children, compared to only 58% for those from lower social groups.

Likewise, 70% of the richest parents think their children are likely to apply to college, while only 53% of the less wealthy agree. The division widens further based on geography, reinforcing last year’s findings from the Higher Education Funding Council for England on a growing participation gap between London and the rest of the country. In total, 77% of parents in the capital expect their offspring to go to college, compared to 59% in the north of England.

The conflicting impulses facing parents come amid evidence that the high fees – establishments will charge an average of £ 8,647 for courses starting this fall – haven’t deterred applicants: numbers are rising after an initial drop. However, students are also worried about money: A survey conducted for the Sutton Trust last May of 11-16 year olds in public schools found that two-thirds were very concerned about the cost of the school. ‘Higher Education.

Dr Gill Wyness, of the Center for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, said the YouGov poll found ‘a lot of skepticism for forgivable reasons on the part of parents’, but also noted the level’ surprising »Support for university studies for its own sake and not simply as a step towards a career. She said: “There are a lot of near contradictions, where people say they can’t afford their kids to go to college and yet they expect them to go. is a confusing time for people. “

There was considerable support for cheaper online courses, but the fact that the vast majority still favored the traditional route suggested that parents in fact thought these cheap alternatives were good for “other people’s children but not their own. “, she suggested.

Wyness said the strong belief in the value of a college education in itself presented a “surprising” challenge to the government’s emphasis on the direct link between a degree, earnings and job prospects.

Professor Claire Callender, professor of higher education at Birkbeck College and the Institute of Education, said parents seem “divided or unclear” about the benefits of higher education, although their enthusiasm for learning in principle rather than the financial benefits is contrary to the rhetoric of the government. But she expressed concerns that parental fears over costs betray a lack of understanding of the scholarships and loans available to students from less well-off homes, suggesting that more should be done to explain all the options. .

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