From education to employment

Parents need more support to help their children make good decisions about university

New online polling by YouGov has revealed common misconceptions held by parents of children aged 11-18 about key questions facing prospective students – on topics including student loans, satisfaction scores and where students study.

The data comes as a new official website, Discover Uni, is launched today (12 Sept) aiming to radically simplify and streamline the process of making decisions about university – helping students and parents alike make sense of the vast amount of information available.

While 74 per cent of parents across the UK said that they felt confident in supporting their children to make decisions about university, the poll of just over 1000 parents revealed:

  • When asked to choose from a list of options that came closest, 82 per cent of all parents in England and Wales overestimated or did not know what a graduate that borrowed £50,000 in loans from student finance on a salary of £30,000 would need to repay on a monthly basis. The correct figure is £32.06 per month but 29 per cent said it was £150 or more.
  • 44 per cent of UK parents either underestimated or did not know how much a recent graduate in England or Wales would have to earn per year before they started to repay their student loan. The correct figure is now £25,725 but 30 per cent thought it was £20,665 or lower.
  • Most underestimated how satisfied undergraduate students are with their courses – only 7 per cent of parents correctly identified that 83 per cent of students who responded to the National Student Survey in 2018 were satisfied with their course. A third (33 per cent) of parents thought it was 56 per cent or lower.
  • More than a quarter (29 per cent) of parents thought that the proportion of students who live at home whilst studying at a university in their local area was 10 per cent or less. In fact, 19 per cent of students live with their parents whilst studying (see notes 5 and 6).

Polling by YouthSight for the Office for Students (OfS) last year found that parents were prospective students’ most important source of information about university, closely followed by teachers.

Discover Uni – launched by a partnership of UK-wide higher education funders and regulators, including the OfS – is designed to be an impartial, authoritative source of data, advice and guidance to help prospective students of all ages and at all stages of the decision making journey take their next steps.

The site allows users to search and compare information from official datasets about higher education courses available in the UK. It includes guidance on factors students might want to consider in choosing a course, and information focused on improving understanding of the student finance system.

The site also acts as a hub, curating and signposting to other quality resources on key topics for applicants and their parents, like living costs and exploring career options.

Extensive user research has been carried out to enable the site to meet the needs of those who need the most support to make informed decisions or currently have the most limited access to good advice and guidance.

This research found that young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to struggle with negative preconceptions of higher education, such as the likelihood of getting a place being dependent on your school or family background. The site therefore includes targeted guidance to help them understand the diversity of options available and the diversity of the student population.

These students were also most concerned with finding out what university was actually like, so the site also draws on an assortment of case studies to allow users to hear from their peers who have already been through the process, as well as linking them up with other resources where they can talk to students like them.

Discover Uni is currently in public beta – meaning that the site is ready for use but will be developed based on feedback over the following year. Specific feedback from students, parents and teachers will be used to inform this development as new features and data are added.

Commenting on the launch of the site, Sir Michael Barber, Chair of the Office for Students, said:

Higher education is a transformative experience that should be accessible to everyone with the potential to benefit from it, not just those with the connections to make sense of it.

But despite their best intentions, the pace of change in the higher education landscape means that parents do not always have the most up-to-date information to guide their children through the decisions they face when they finish school. They may remember what it was like in their day, though quite a bit has changed, or they may have no first-hand experience of higher education.

In too many cases, a lack of access to good information – or lack of support to navigate the complexity of the information that is available – stands between a talented person and a university education that could change their life.

And schools leavers are just one part of the picture. We are also particularly concerned about those looking to upskill, reskill or just learn something completely new later in life who may no longer have the support network of teachers or peers facing the same decisions at the same time in life. A university education is not and cannot be just the preserve of the young.

It is crucial that everyone considering their options for education or training seeks reliable advice and guidance. These are big decisions. But whether you’re not yet sure if you want to go to university at all or you already know what you want to study – and everything in between – this new site will include the right information for you at the right time.

It’s a no nonsense, official and independent resource that cuts through the clutter to tell students what they really need to know.

Martha Longdon, student experience board member at the OfS and chair of the OfS student panel, said:

Every student is different, entering higher education with their own priorities, ambitions and potential barriers. Just as there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to university, the way in which applicants can access information and advice should be flexible and support this individual and often very personal decision making process.

As the first in my family to attend university, it wasn’t always clear what questions I should be asking at open days, or what I should expect when I arrived on campus. I was lucky to have a very supportive family, but at times they struggled to find the information they needed to have confidence in the choices I was making. Targeted guidance for disadvantaged students will ensure that the right information is available at the right time, every step of the way.

Higher education is changing at considerable pace, and there is now more information available to applicants than ever before. The Discover Uni public beta is an excellent opportunity for students to shape the future direction of the site and ensure it is a relevant, useful and impartial tool that reflects the diversity of higher education provision, and of those considering further study.’

Discover Uni is the official, authoritative source of data, advice and guidance on higher education in the UK. Our aim is to empower prospective students to make confident and informed decisions. The site replaces Unistats from September 2019.

Discover Uni is managed by the Office for Students (OfS) in partnership with the Department for the Economy Northern Ireland (DfENI), Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and Scottish Funding Council (SFC).

The Office for Students is the independent regulator for higher education in England. Our aim is to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1038 parents of children between the ages of 11-18. One question was only asked of 929 parents living in England and Wales. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21 and 27 August 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), in 2017-18 19 per cent of students lived with their parents whilst studying.

The majority of young people (55.8 per cent in 2014-15) stay local for university, attending a university less than about 55 miles away from their home address, according to the Sutton Trust.

Percentage of parents who answered questions correctly, split by those describing themselves as confident or not confident in helping children make decisions about university:

  Confident (74%) Not confident (20%) Don’t know (6%) Total % of those that answered correctly

In 2018, what percentage of final year students were satisfied with their course?





If you earn £30,000, how much of a £50k student loan would you repay per month? (asked in England and Wales) (£50)




15% (chose £50 as the option that comes closest)

What is the current earning threshold for paying back a student loan? (25,725)





What percentage of students live at home and studying at local their university?




43% (chose between 11% and 49% as the option that comes closest)

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