Most students value their higher education

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



(2004), "Most students value their higher education", Education + Training, Vol. 46 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Most students value their higher education

Most students value their higher education

Some 400,000 students enter higher education each year, most now paying fees; do they value their experience? Was it worth it? A report from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) reveals that most students feel that the benefits of higher education outweigh the costs.

Introducing Next Choices: Career Choices Beyond University, Richard Pearson, IES director, said: “The research shows that the majority of applicants from 1998, the first to pay tuition fees, felt that they had made the right choices, and that the benefits of higher education had outweighed the costs. Nevertheless, much could be done to support and improve the decision making of future applicants.

“The most satisfied tended to be ‘traditional’ graduates, who had completed their studies with good results, and were mobile in the national labour market; and those who were now in good jobs. The least satisfied were those who gained a lower class of degree, or who failed to complete, or were in lower-paid, lower-level occupations, and those who returned home after their studies.”

The vast majority of students worked during their studies, either during vacations or in term time; 42 per cent regularly worked during term time.

Project leader Emma Pollard, IES research fellow, said: “Those regularly working during term time were less likely to gain a good degree. This is a concern, as those from lower socio-economic groups, from families with lower income and from minority groups were more likely to work during term time. Costs were a significant issue for many. The average level of debt on completion was almost £10,000. The highest debt was for those from less-privileged backgrounds and those who studied away from home.”

A small minority of students left their course early. Some left higher education for good, but others immediately transferred within the system or returned after a short break. These early leavers came from diverse backgrounds and left for various reasons. The younger leavers felt they had often made hasty or ill-informed choices, and looking back realized they did not really know what they wanted from their higher education; the move to HE was just the next step on the “education conveyor belt”. The more mature leavers recognized that their circumstances often limited their choices, presenting an obstacle course for getting into and through HE. Few of the leavers sought advice about their decision to leave, or about their subsequent choices. Many, however, returned to higher education, often after a period of employment, or while continuing employment.

Many graduates were surprised how difficult it was to find work – especially good-quality jobs. However, an increasing proportion of graduates moved into employment over time, and the relative importance of temporary work decreased as they moved into more-secure work.

Graduates worked across a range of occupations, but at the time of the survey most were in high-level (professional/technical) occupations, earning an average of £16,000, and in jobs offering promotion and development opportunities.

Significantly, half had not engaged in any further study since they graduated or left HE. Those least likely to engage in further study were: male; from families with high incomes; had studied vocational subjects; or were from the former polytechnics. Many were in poor-quality jobs. Of those engaging in further study, half were on full-time MSc, PhD or diploma courses. The others were mostly studying on short courses while working, or working towards professional qualifications.

Overall, the graduates painted a positive picture of their choices of, and experiences in and after, HE. Higher education had helped them with their future prospects. Even though many anticipated, and left with, sizeable levels of debt, the vast majority felt that the benefits they gained (and would continue to reap) from HE outweighed the costs. They would, however, have welcomed more advice as to the nature and financing of these costs. Traditional graduates (younger, white, middle class) tended to have the best outcomes, while those from less-traditional backgrounds achieved lower results and were more likely to have weaker labour-market outcomes and lower satisfaction. In addition, the majority of early leavers were still positive about the value of their time in higher education.

Next Choices: Career Choices Beyond University, E. Pollard, R. Pearson, R. Willison, IES Report 405, ISBN 1 85184 334 5, £35

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