England and Wales university fees ‘bad value for money’ – survey

Majority of respondents say £9,250 a year fee is not good value – with 74% backing additional bursaries for poorer students

A majority of voters say university tuition fees of £9,250 are “bad value”, according to an opinion poll by YouGov that also found support for graduates in England paying back a higher proportion of their student loans.

The poll of nearly 1,500 adults found that just over half said the current level of fees in England and Wales was bad value for money, while only one in five said it was good value.

Graduates were more likely to agree than non-graduates, with 69% of graduates saying that £9,250 was bad value, compared with 47% of non-graduates.

The results were very similar when the pollsters asked graduates about the education they personally received: 64% said it would be bad value for money at £9,250 a year, while just 23% said it would be good value.

Graduates were also more pessimistic about the impact of going to university. Some 44% said most graduates would be worse off in the long run, while 37% thought most students would be better off because their increased earnings would outweigh the costs.

Nick Hillman, chief executive of the Higher Education Policy Institute, and an architect of the tuition fee and loan regime introduced in 2012, said that the perceptions of bad value for money were at odds with the popularity of going to university among school-leavers.

“University demand is higher than it has ever been before. It might seem overpriced but people are still willing to do,” Hillman said.

YouGov’s survey found that many voters appear to support the current structure of tuition fees in England and Wales, as well as the government’s recent changes to the student loan repayment regime in England. But while support was strongest among Conservative voters, there were few signs of enthusiasm for particular policies.

Asked what the best way of funding university education would be, 42% backed the current system of fees and student loans, while 26% supported payment out of general taxation, and 11% supported a tax paid by graduates.

The survey found little variation in support for either of the two main political parties. Asked which party they most trusted to deal with education, 26% backed Labour, 19% backed the Conservatives and 6% the Liberal Democrats – but the highest proportion, 44%, said they did not know.

In the last two elections Labour has campaigned on abolishing tuition fees for undergraduates but under Keir Starmer’s leadership the party has so far not committed itself to any detailed policy.

The results did show considerable backing for additional bursaries for students from “low economic backgrounds”, with 74% in favour and just 8% opposed. Bursaries for those who “achieve the highest grades” at school were backed by 56%.

There was also support for a new proposal by the government that would restrict student loans to those with minimum entry requirements: 65% agreed that universities “should not be able to offer places to people who do not have a minimum number” of A-levels, GCSEs or equivalents. Just 21% said there should be no entry requirements.