A study by SKOPE, a research body based at Oxford and Cardiff universities, suggests that the recent increase in tuition fees has encouraged greater numbers of students to apply to ‘elite’ universities.
The paper argues that this is due to a determination among pupils to get better perceived value for money in higher education. 78% of the 723 sixth form students surveyed told the researchers that they believed graduates could expect higher salaries than those without degrees. This percentage was significantly lower among those who did not expect to go into higher education.
One of the students told the report, “I see [university] as an investment. You’re putting the fees in now, but that means you can get a better job and have a nice house and you can make that kind of life for yourself”.
Almost a quarter of the pupils surveyed applied to at least one Russell Group university, a tendency strongest among those who perceived a university education as an important investment in the future.
The lower fees offered by institutions lower down the league tables, designed to attract students away from Russell Group universities, figured little in some students’ plans, as one student claimed, “They all charge more or less £9000, don’t they?”
Dr Hubert Erkl, one of the researchers, said students were “clear that higher fees have increased the pressure on them to make the right decisions concerning where they invest their time and money.”
Four in ten school-leavers questioned said they were ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the expected level of debt that would result from taking out a student loan to pay for their university course.
Financial concerns were higher among female students than their male counterparts. Nearly half (48%) of the female sixth-formers surveyed said they were concerned about debt, compared with around one-quarter (27%) of male sixth-formers.
However, this attitude was far from universal. One-fifth of sixth-formers questioned said that they did not know or had not thought about the level of debt they would accrue as a result of going to university.
A common theme among these students was an inability to comprehend the size of the debt. One pupil commented, “It’s more money than you could possibly imagine so I’d rather just do what I would do anyway and then worry about it later.”
Researcher Dr Helen Carasso, from SKOPE in the Department of Educationat the University of Oxford, said: “All the indications are that, under the new arrangements for fees and funding, prospective undergraduates will be very selective when applying to university.”
“This may mean fewer of them are willing to go through the clearing process and accept an offer of a course or institution that was not on their original shortlist. On the positive side, drop-out rates in the early stages of degrees could become lower.”
However, these trends do not seem to affect Oxford, which appears to contradict many trends in higher education. A spokesperson for the University told the Cherwell, “Applications to Oxford have remained steady at just over 17,000 over each of the last three admissions rounds, and I believe Cambridge has seen a similar pattern.”
She explained that “Oxford and Cambridge are in many respects the exception to many of the rules when it comes to higher education [because] we have had AAA+ as our standard offer for many years, we don’t enter the clearing process, and we rely on a lot more than just the UCAS form for admission.”