Student choices: Old Oxbridge duo stay way ahead in public perception of excellence

Why are 17 per cent of families with children in their late teens unable to name any outstanding university at all? Maureen O'Connor ponders the survey
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The Independent Culture
Cry your eyes out all you university marketing departments: your efforts to raise the public profile of your institutions have been pretty much in vain. As have all the careful gradings of teaching quality and research excellence which have tormented academics and governing bodies over the last few years - at least as far as your prospective customers are concerned.

Parents and 16 to 18-year-olds were asked which three universities have the best reputation in the UK. There was not much doubt about the top two: Oxford was ranked amongst the best by 58 per cent of parents and children. Cambridge will be slightly miffed to discover only 56 per cent put it in the top three.

But at least the Oxbridge duo can claim to be recognised by a majority of the population whose children might be making applications in the next few years. There is no such comfort for any other university:

Manchester is highly regarded by only 10 per cent of those surveyed, and that is as good as it gets.

The top London University colleges got votes from only eight per cent of the respondents. And they were regarded more highly by parents than by prospective students, particularly by professionals, fathers and parents in the south of England.

Durham came next, placed in the top three by seven per cent of parents and children. Its strongest support came from prospective students in the Midlands and professional parents in the North.

Nottingham and Leeds were the next most highly regarded, with six per cent of the vote each: another indication, perhaps, that the night-life vote is still considerable. But from this point in the table there is a strong regional effect. Nottingham was particularly favoured by parents and children in the Midlands, Leeds by parents and children in the North.

No other university was put in the top three by more than five per cent of those surveyed, and those which did get a mention are an eclectic bunch, with a fairly even country-wide spread: Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bristol and Brunel (five per cent); Newcastle and Sheffield Hallam, the only former polytechnic to rate a mention (four per cent); Loughborough, Cardiff, Southampton and Exeter (three per cent); Birmingham, Warwick and York (two per cent).

The survey leaves some questions crying out for an answer. Why, for instance, do 74 per cent of young men regard Oxford as a top university while only 56 per cent of young women do? Their parents, incidentally, are less enthusiastic about Oxford - 51 per cent put it in the top three - but mothers and fathers are equally cool. The figures for Cambridge are similarly mysterious.

Why are 17 per cent of families with children in the pre-student age- group unable to name any outstanding university at all? A figure which rises to 26 per cent amongst parents in social classes C2, D and E.

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