To be or not to be a student – that is the question

March 08, 2012

More than one in four students said that they would not have gone to university if they had to pay the proposed higher fees to be introduced later this year, according to the 2012 Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey published today in association with THE.

To be or not to be a student – that is the question

Of those who would be prepared to pay the higher fees, over half (51%) said that they would have made greater demands on their tutors in order to ensure they were ‘getting the most for their money'.

The majority of students, 74%, said that the main reason for going to university is to improve job prospects with 56% of students, up from 46% in 2010, worrying about finding work on completion of their studies.

Peter Taylor, head of Universities at Sodexo, said “Students are increasingly concerned about finding work after leaving university. To help students, we have introduced, at some of the universities where we provide services, work placement opportunities where they can work at Sodexo in areas such as marketing, food photography and media studies. We also provide part-time jobs in some of our catering facilities on campus.”

Currently, despite the fact that over 30% of students expect to graduate with debts over £20,000, compared to 2% in 2004, over 75% consider the investment as worthwhile and perhaps surprisingly fewer students (31%) today are concerned about the level of debt, compared with 42% in 2008.

The student experience continues to change from a fun, carefree experience where less time is spent socialising and the emphasis is on working hard, achieving a good degree and improving job prospects.

Socialising, which was once a key aspect of university life, is on the decline with over 60% of students only socialising for less than two hours a day and only 12% socialising over five hours a day compared to 33% in 2006. A surprising 14% do not socialise at all. In line with this trend, very little is spent on socialising with 75% (up from 62% in 2008) of students spending less than £20 a week on socialising.

On a positive note, 81% of students try to eat healthily but over 50% of students have changed their eating habits because of financial pressures and over two thirds (62%) of these students are eating less healthily as a result. Most students (52%) drink less than ten units of alcohol each week – with a quarter claiming they do not drink at all.

Peter Taylor continued: “Students continue to spend less on socialising and are eating less healthily as a result of financial pressures. These trends are likely to increase when students begin paying higher fees.

“Healthy options need not be more expensive and we are working to ensure that we offer healthy, nutritious food which is good value for money. It is also clear that the built environment is very important to students and we continue to invest in providing attractive, up to date venues where they can eat and socialise without breaking their budget.”

When asked what they would like their universities to spend more money on to improve the student experience, the biggest demand, for around 20% of students, would be better quality of teaching, followed by 15% of students wanting better social facilities such as cafes, social space and student union facilities.

Professor Jane Longmore, deputy vice-chancellor at Southampton Solent University, adds: “The survey offers real insight into the world of the contemporary university applicant and helps the higher education sector to understand the preferences and aspirations of its students. Universities will need to secure the elusive balance between meeting the rightful expectations of the consumer and developing their students’ understanding of the purpose and lifelong value of higher education.”

This is the fifth University Lifestyle Survey produced by Sodexo, a leading provider of food and facilities management to services to universities.

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About the Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey:
Published biennially since 2004, the Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey, in association with THE, gives a uniquely detailed analysis of the student experience, from how they choose and fund a university education, to their lifestyle and eating habits. For the 2012 survey 2,001 students participated in the research, from 139 universities across the UK.

Additional findings:
Studying
Students are working hard with 71% of students working between 2-5 hours a day on their own. 62% of students never miss a lecture up from 52% in 2010 and 93% of students still choose to attend lectures in person. The second main reason for attending university, for 64% of students (up from 57% in 2010), was to improve their knowledge of a subject. 25% of students said they would spend more time studying if they were paying £9,000 fees.

Concerns
72% of students are concerned about the class of degree they will obtain compared to 41% in 2004. Those concerned about balancing academic, social and work commitments has also increased from 41% in 2004 to 68% in 2012. Those worrying about finding a job has increased from 46% in 2010 to 56% but those concerned about debt has decreased to 31% from 42% in 2008.

Cost of Living
The cost of living remains high with 40% of students paying between £301 and £500 a month in rent, 57% paying up to £20 a week on travel and 64% of students spending between £11-40 a week on food. Not surprisingly, the number of students living at home has increased from 13% in 2008 to 18% of students in 2012.

Eating Habits
81% of students try to eat healthily and 67% of students cook their own dinner. Spaghetti Bolognese remains the favourite dish of students. 50% of students have changed their diet due to financial pressures and two thirds of those are eating less healthily as a result and 43% do no sport or exercise at all.

59% and 57% are prepared to pay more for free range and fair trade food respectively but only 51% were prepared to pay more for locally sourced produce and 37% for organic products.

Debt
30% of students expect to graduate with over £20,000 of debt, up from 2% in 2004 but around one fifth of students expect to emerge debt free, compared to one quarter in 2006. Although the amount of debt has risen over the year, those considering it a worthwhile investment has increased from 64% in 2008 to 75% in 2012.

Paid Work
Around 25% of students currently have part-time jobs during term time which has fallen from 31% in 2010. Most students who work while studying, 45%, work between one and 10 hours a week. Around half, 49% said they would have devoted more time to paid jobs if they had to pay £9,000 a year in fees.

Social Networking Sites
The number one priority for 77% of students is wireless access. More than 50% spend seven hours or more on social network sites but only 22% spend over 10 hours a week. Only 10% of students do not visit the sites at all.

Regional highlights (more regional data available)

London and South East is more expensive to live and 56% of students who work spend over 11 hours a week in paid employment. Almost two thirds (63%) spend over £300 a month on rent, compared to 51% nationally, and 35% of students expect to leave university with debts of over £20,000 compared to a national average of 30%.

In South West England and Wales 54% of students choose universities in this region because they are drawn by the geographic location compared to 43% nationally and compared to 37% in the North and 38% in the East and the Midlands. Only 9% live at home which is well below the national average of 18%.

Campus universities are a key pull for students in the East and the Midlands which attracted 46% of students which is far above the UK average of 34%. Accommodation costs are also slightly lower with 46% paying over £300 a month compared to the national average of 51%.

Northern students are less attracted by the geographic location but universities did score well for their friendly atmosphere, an important factor for 45% of respondents. Less students, 21%, worked part time during term time compared to the national average of 25%. Only 43% spend over £300 a month in rent, compared to 51% nationally and 63% in London and the South East.

Scotland has the key difference that students do not pay tuition fees. As a result 36% of students expect to leave with no debt at all compared to a fifth in the rest of the UK; only 9% expect to leave with debts over £20,000 compared to the national average of 30%. More students have part time jobs, 35% compared to 25% national average and 22% (compared to 18% nationally) live at home.

In Northern Ireland, 35% stated that living at home was a key factor in choosing their university compared to the national average of 22%. A quarter of students live rent free and 50% pay less that £300 a month in rent. More students, 35%, had part-time jobs during term time compared to the national 25% average. 23% of students expect to leave with £20,000 of debt which is well below the national average of 30%. Only 43% of students were concerned about finding a job compared to a national average of 56%.

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