A couple of weeks ago, the Guardian cited a rather troubling study. The claim was made that less than half of students felt that their university education would, in the future, pay for itself. In a study of more than 2,000 students, 48% of those interviewed said that they were “confident” or “very confident” that their education would pay for itself after graduation, while 24% stated that they were “unconfident” or “not confident at all”. Eight out of ten students said that they expected to pay more for university, not least because of rising tuition fees, but only 22% said that would happily pay more to attend a university with a better reputation if they felt they could be more confident about getting a job after graduation. Three out of ten students said that they chose a university that would enable them to live at home and keep costs down, and around 60% said that education was worth the money because it “sets you up for life”.
When choosing a university, 47% said that good teaching and feedback from tutors was a key factor (something that, sadly, cannot be guaranteed at even the “best” universities), 29% stated that it was the course offered and only 12% considered reputation the principle factor. The newspaper merely quoted the survey and provided no links to actual data (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jun/03/less-than-half-of-students-confident-their-degree-will-pay-for-itself). The survey was run by Future Finance (https://www.futurefinance.com/uk/v/v2), a private student loans company in the UK, an organisation which, by its very nature, profits from fiscal concerns surrounding major life decisions. The data was not easy to find on their website either, but large advertisements for their services certainly were.
The article ends with a quote from the CEO of Future Finance, stating that an increasing in tuition fees had made students more “value conscious”, arguing that good teaching, courses and reputation were three key areas where universities needed to “perform”, and claiming that it was vital for universities to establish long-term pathways to employability and career success. Even if the fact that it is poor research practice to draw such sweeping conclusions from one small study is disregarded, the relevance of a quote from this individual is not clear. As a CEO of a financial company, not an education professional or expert, his views are far from objective.
This article is an example of study data, collected by a private company with vested interests, being misrepresented and overanalysed to draw conclusions which the actual data does not support. No information was offered on who these students were, where or how they were recruited, or any other methodological concerns, many of which might have been highly informative. Yes, university represents a massive investment of time and resources, but a decision influence by a thousand other lifestyle concerns should not be reduced to mere bean counting just to frighten people.
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