Parental guidance (not always) recommended for university applications

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Wednesday 15 October 2014

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New research from Coventry University has revealed that almost a quarter (22 per cent) of school leavers believe that advice from their parents is one of the most important factors when choosing a university. One in seven (14 per cent) students goes so far as to say that such advice is more important than their own views*.

Only seven per cent of students said they don't value their parents' opinions at all when making a university decision.

Although parental guidance is of course well-meaning, academics express concern that it is based on university experiences which are decades old, and may overlook things like modern universities**, which have risen to prominence since 1992, offering courses with a strong focus on increasing graduates' employability. They also warn parents to take care when influencing their children's decisions, or risk stifling their potential by encouraging them into a course that isn't right for them.

Over a third of all the parents (35 per cent) involved in the research admitted that they want to influence their children's university choice. Of the parents who went into higher education, 43 per cent said they hope their children follow a similar university path to their own.

Worryingly, one in eight parents (12 per cent) said they would encourage their children to stay at home and forgo the university experience entirely – because they will "miss them too much."

The research suggests that some children are turning to their parents for advice to fill a void left by their schools. Three-quarters of students (74 per cent) said they felt schools and colleges didn't give them enough information on which to base their university decisions. A similar proportion of parents (68 per cent) agreed.

This underlines the need for students' research to be based on a range of sources. Over one third (34 per cent) of students said they won't talk to people in the fields of work they are interested in before making a decision regarding university, and two fifths (40 per cent) fail to consider which jobs are in demand.

Advice from employers about how students can increase their employability potential supports the need for broad-based, vocational research. Over half (53 per cent) of the employers involved in the study urged students to research the career they want to work in and select a course that matches the skills required. Over one third (37 per cent) recommended talking to people who do the jobs the students are most interested in.

Professor Ian Marshall, deputy vice-chancellor of Coventry University, commented:

The university landscape has changed dramatically in the last twenty to thirty years and therefore parental advice, which many parents admit is heavily influenced by their own higher education path, may be incomplete. The most effective advice parents could offer would be to encourage their children to research potential future careers – including talking to people in those fields of work.
Most schools work extremely hard to advise their pupils on which courses will best suit their academic abilities, temperament or career options. Teachers and schools cannot, on their own, be expected to have a thorough knowledge of all the developments in university teaching and in the myriad careers that are being chased by their pupils. That’s why it is so important for schools to work closely with universities, who are in the position to provide relevant and up-to-the-minute information on how different careers are changing, what skills they require and, of course, what courses and universities will help students best prepare themselves.

Peter Ogden, editor of ITV's This Morning, and former student of Coventry University, said:

Part of my job is employing people, so I know the importance of university graduates having relevant, practical experience that increases their employability in my industry. As the study suggests, parents and students need to make sure that they do extensive research before making their university applications. The days of the 'old poly' are long gone, and modern universities like Coventry offer high quality courses that provide real-life experience. For instance, as part of my course I got to help set up the student radio there, which was an incredibly rewarding and useful experience.

Coventry University, like many other tertiary institutions, works with secondary schools and colleges to help ensure that students are up to date with the latest information on careers, and support them in making informed decisions about what courses are right for them. For example, in 2005, Coventry launched the Phoenix Partnership, a coalition of 80 schools and colleges primarily from the Midlands, London and the South East. It enables members to work together in encouraging students to pursue their goals and support their ambitions.

* The survey was conducted by independent market research company, OnePoll, between 22 August and 1 September 2014. It involved 1,500 individuals from the UK: 500 students aged 16-18, 500 parents of 16-18 year-olds, and 500 employers who hire graduates.

** Modern or 'post-1992' universities are those tertiary education institutions which have been granted university status since (or as part of) the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. The term is most readily associated with former polytechnics (such as Coventry) which were made universities in 1992.