Survey: Parents question value of degrees

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The Independent Online

Controversial plans to raise university fees to £9,000 a year are leaving parents concerned about the cost and questioning the value of higher education, research suggests.

A survey of more than 1,000 parents reveals that almost half (48.6%) believe the proposed hike is unfair because it will impact mainly on the less well-off, while a further three in 10 (30.3%) believe it is unfair on everyone.

Just a fifth of parents (21%) think increasing fees is necessary given the current economic climate.

The survey, conducted by parenting website Netmums, reveals that many parents believe higher fees will leave them unable to help their children with the cost of university - while others say they will have to start saving now.

Under the proposals, recently approved by Government, English universities will be able to charge students up to £6,000 per year in fees from 2012, and as much as £9,000 in "exceptional circumstances".

But almost a third (32.2%) of the parents polled said they no longer expected to be able to afford to help pay their child's fees, which means they will be unlikely to be able to go to university.

A further 18 per cent said they were unlikely to be able to help fund the cost of the fees, but were happy that their child could apply for a Government loan to cover the cost.

And more than one in 10 (11.3%) said they no longer wanted their child to go to university due to the fee rise and the debt they would leave with.

A third (32.7%) of those questioned said they planned to start saving now to help their child go to university in the future, while half (50.8%) said they would make sacrifices in their own lives in order for their child to go to university.

Some 13.4 per cent said they would consider sending their child to university abroad rather than in the UK.

In total, just 11.2 per cent said they still expected to be able to fund a university education.

And many parents were concerned that the latest fee rise would not be the last - almost nine in 10 (87.5%) said they were worried that fees would have increased again by the time their child was ready to go to university.

The poll also raised questions among parents about the value of higher education.

Just over four in 10 (43.8%) said a university degree was worth it, simply for its educational value, while only 14.6% of parents believed you need a degree to get a good job.

A quarter of parents (24.8%) said it was possible to work your way up in a career without a degree, while 16.7% said that unless a graduate was going into a specific profession, such as medicine or teaching, then a degree was "a waste of money".

Netmums co-founder Siobhan Freegard said: "The proposed rise in tuition fees will have a huge impact on parents, ultimately leaving some unable to send their children to university.

"It's clear that many are beginning to question the value of a degree if it leaves children with crippling debts, and it's likely we will see a rise in school-leavers seeking work or apprenticeships straight after their A-levels.

"It's a shame that the cost will put many people off going to university, which a majority of mums believe can be a seminal part in someone's life in terms of experiences, not just education."

The survey findings also show that nearly two-thirds (63.3%) of parents questioned believed that university was a right, not a privilege, and despite the cost, the vast majority (93.3%) still wanted their child to go to university.

The online survey questioned 1,100 parents in December.