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Students need help to ‘get real’ about expectations of university life – report

School-leavers are not always well-prepared for undergraduate life, the Higher Education Policy Institute has warned.

There is a significant gap between would-be students’ expectations of university and the realities of student life, a new report warns.

It suggests that many university applicants do not have a good understanding of what it will be like to study for a degree and are unclear on issues such as the time they will spend in lectures and the academic support they will get.

In addition, many are not well-prepared for higher education, with some under-estimating how much they will spend on costs such as rent, while others admit they are not confident about paying bills, or feel unprepared for living with strangers.

School-leavers need more help from schools, parents and universities to “get real” about their expectations, according to Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), which co-published the report with Unite Students.

The study, based on a poll of more than 2,000 university applicants, found that nearly all of those questioned (95%) are ready for a demanding workload at university, assuming they will do more independent studying than they do at school.

But it also found that 60% expect to spend more time in lectures than in the classroom.

In reality, preliminary findings from a separate survey of around 6,500 current undergraduates show that just 19% say they do actually spend more time in lectures than they did in lessons.

Two-thirds (66%) of the would-be students expected to do more group work than at school, while in reality 52% of current students say this is the case, and nearly half (46%) of applicants expect to get more one-to-one support than at school, while 36% of students find this to actually be true.

University students (David Cheskin/PA)

“Being on the cusp of higher education is a time full of anticipation and excitement,” the report says.

“Dig a little deeper, and the results show that, despite their confidence and excitement, not all applicants are well-prepared. There are some significant disparities between what they assume life is like at university and what it is actually like for most students.”

Seven in 10 (71%) of applicants say they feel confident about making friends at university, although nearly half (47%) have some anxiety about living with strangers.

Students outside the University of Westminster (Nick Ansell/PA)

And while three in four (75%) are confident about creating a budget for the next month, and 62% feel prepared to manage their finances at university, less than half (43%) are confident about paying a bill and just 41% agree that they understand student finances well.

In addition, many applicants under-estimate essential costs of being at university; for example, less than half (49%) think rent will be their biggest non-tuition expense.

Mr Hillman said: “Schools, parents and universities, not to mention policymakers, all need to help school-leavers get real about their expectations. But, where applicants’ expectations are reasonable, the whole higher education sector needs to consider what more should be done to meet them.”

Universities Minister Jo Johnson (Chris Radburn/PA)

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: “People will have different expectations of a university education, but what is indisputable is the expectation for excellent teaching and a good return on their investment.”

:: The survey questioned 2,021 applicants at UK universities. It draws on preliminary findings from the Unite Students’ Student Insight Survey 2017.


From Belfast Telegraph