|CENTRE FOR RESEARCH|
ON HIGHER EDUCATION
|The Queen's University|
Attitudes to Higher Education
Report to CCRU and DENI
A. M. Gallagher
Queen's University of Belfast
R. D. Osborne
University of Ulster at Jordanstown
R. J. Cormack
Queen's University of Belfast
Research Paper One
Section one: Introduction
Section two: Participation in higher education
Section three: Research evidence
Section four: The future
|Appendix 1: The Pupils' Study|
Section one: Introduction
Section two: Sources of information
Section three: Open days
Section four: The question of money
Section five: Student loans
Section six: perceptions of prejudice
Section seven: Perceptions of Queen's
Section eight: Staying in Northern Ireland
Section nine: Leaving Northern Ireland
Section ten: Conclusions
|Appendix 2: The Parents' Study|
Section one: Introduction
Section two: Why go to university?
Section three: Should they stay or should they go?
Section 4: Careers advice
Section five: Political perceptions
Section six: Student loans
Section seven: Conclusions
|1. ||The aim of the report is to examine the current patterns of participation in higher education among Protestant and Catholic young people in Northern Ireland, and to suggest likely future patterns.
|2. ||Previous research had highlighted a number of current patterns in participation. A large and increasing proportion of school leavers with 2 or more A Level passes entered higher education. Within the general increase in participation levels, there has been a marked increase in the participation of women, students from Catholic schools and students from manual backgrounds. There has been an increasing proportion of entrants to higher education who leave Northern Ireland and this group is disproportionately comprised of students from Protestant schools. Finally, there has been a marked increase in entrants to the two Northern Ireland universities from outside Northern Ireland.
|3.||In addition to the empirical patterns summarised above, there has been an increase in the personal cost of higher education as a consequence of a shift from grants towards loans.
|4.||Two research studies were carried out to gather qualitative evidence in order to explain the reasons behind some of these patterns. The views of pupils were assessed by running 27 focus groups involving 230 pupils in the sixth form of 14 grammar and secondary schools. The views of parents were assessed by running eight focus groups involving 75 parents of pupils in the sixth form of grammar and secondary schools.
|5. ||The research studies suggested the following conclusions. There is no evidence to suggest that the demand for higher education will decrease. The main reason for the high level of leavers from Northern Ireland is seen to be the high entry grades to certain courses in Queens University and the University of Ulster. There is a general lack of information on the new arrangements for student income. Although there is no evidence that the increased personal cost of higher education, or the move to student loans, is putting people off applying to university, it does seem to influence the preferred destination and will encourage applicants to stay in Northern Ireland.
|6.||In the absence of additional places in higher education in Northern Ireland it seems likely that the pressures created by high entry grade levels to the two Northern Ireland universities will increase. This will be exacerbated by two processes: financial pressures will increase the proportion of applicants to higher education who would wish to stay in Northern Ireland, and there has been an increase in applicants from outside Northern Ireland. Grade inflation in entry to the two local universities will mean that the proportion of those obliged to leave Northern Ireland will remain high and may well increase. More generally, the pressures thus created will bear down particularly heavily on school leavers with lower A Level grades.
|7. ||The most likely outcome will be (a) that the outflow of young Protestants will increase, reducing diversity within Queen's University and the University of Ulster, and (b) there will be increased pressures on Catholics from manual backgrounds and a likely reduction in their participation in higher education
|8. ||An increase in places in higher education in Northern Ireland would ameliorate some of these pressures and help to preserve some of the socisal gains that have been identified in higher education over recent years. Extra places could be created either through one or both of the two Northern Ireland universities, through franchised courses in Further Education colleges, through encouraging applicants to consider alternative sub-degree routes with ladders to degree programmes, or through alternative modes of degree level study, such as part-time and extended study. The first of these options is the most expensive, may not target the groups most affected by the pressures referred to above, but provides for the highest quality of provision.
|9.||The social gains in participation in higher education may have occurred by good fortune rather than design. Given that they have been achieved, it may require positive action to enhance or even maintain these social gains.
The aim of this report is to examine the current patterns of participation
in higher education among Protestant and Catholic young people
in Northern Ireland, and to suggest likely future patterns. Statistical
data available from the DENI and other sources, allied with previous
research carried out by the authors, had highlighted some of the
characteristics of those participating in higher education. It
was necessary, however, to carry out further research to identify
the reasons for some of these patterns. The results of this research
are detailed in the appendices. This paper is concerned with the
policy implications of the research as it relates to future trends.
The paper is divided into four sections. This first section outlines
briefly the background to the research. The second section examines
current patterns of participation in higher education and highlights
the issues on which new research evidence was required. The third
section outlines the findings and implications of this research.
The fourth and final section of the paper offers suggestions for
future patterns of participation in higher education.
The main conclusions of this study can be summarised as follows.
While many parents are daunted at the cost of their children participating
in higher education, the perceived gains are seen to outweigh
the costs. In particular, parents believe that participation in
higher education is crucial in employment opportunity.
Most parents have limited information on the specifics of higher
education costs and on the student loans system. Nevertheless,
financial considerations are more important to parents than pupils.
There was little or no evidence that the increasing personal cost
of higher education was putting people off applying to higher
education. However, there was some indication that financial considerations
limited peoples' choice in that some parts of the United Kingdom
were seen as being particularly expensive. More generally, many
parents felt their children should stay in Northern Ireland if
possible, because of the extra expense involved in leaving Northern
Parents offered two main reasons to explain the relatively high
proportion of entrants to higher education who leave Northern
Ireland. The most important explanation was the high entry levels
to courses in the two local universities. The second most important
factor was that some parents felt that leaving Northern Ireland
would encourage their children to develop independence. Some parents
felt that the violence in Northern Ireland had been a factor in
In almost all of the focus group sessions some time was spent
discussing perceptions of the local universities and, in particular,
recent controversies in Queens University Belfast. Our evidence
suggested that a significant minority of parents were unhappy
with recent changes at Queen's, but most of these indicated that
it would not cause them to discourage their children from applying
to Queens. The predominant impression offered of the university
was that it offered a high status and high quality degree.
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