No fear factor on debt

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Students in Scottish further education colleges worry less about debt than those in universities, according to the first report from a five-year survey of learners. Drop-out rates in FE are greater than in HE, however, although the report does not offer any explanation.

The study, which covered 7,000 graduating students in 19 higher education institutions and 33 FE colleges, found that more than four fifths of students questioned were satisfied with their place of learning and their course. Almost two thirds of those completing courses in 2004 said they had never considered dropping out.

On Track: Class of 2004, published by the Scottish Funding Councils for Further and Higher Education, noted that just over one in four students said they would like to take more courses, but the level of debt puts them off. Those studying at university honours level are more likely to say this, at two in five, against one in four for those taking higher national certificates and diplomas.

Only one in five students says he or she is not worried about debts, believing they can be paid off when employment starts.

Overall, six out of 10 students say the money they are spending on their education is a good investment. While they remain concerned at the debts they are incurring, students are more likely to agree than disagree that the benefits outweigh the costs - two in five, against one in 10.

Attitudes to debt also appear to depend on age and other factors. Those aged 20 to 25 are most likely to be worried (two out of five, against just one in 14 of those aged 46 and over). Seven out of 10 honours students believe they are making a good investment against four out of 10 of those taking an SVQ level 3 course.

There is none the less a stark contrast in completion rates between the two sectors - nine out of 10 of those in universities finished their course, against three out of four in colleges.

The report comments: "The main factor in whether learners anticipated completing their course appears to relate to the complexity of the course make-up of the further education sector.

"Further exploration of the views of those who did not complete their course in 2004 would be required to understand the reasons behind non-completion and to investigate differences between those who withdrew from their course and those who did not complete in 2004 because they continued with their studies."

The research, which was conducted by Mori Scotland in partnership with Critical Thinking, reported that almost nine in 10 of those who took part believe that studying has developed and changed them, with the figure highest particularly among 20 to 25-year-olds. Women are marginally more likely than men to say they have benefited - 90 per cent, against 88 per cent.

Very few students think any of their skills have deteriorated, and the one area most cite as having improved is that they feel they are getting better at writing reports (66 per cent).

Other skills gained are:

* ability to work under pressure (63 per cent)

* working constructively with others (59 per cent)

* ability to analyse complex issues (58 per cent)

* verbal skills and problem-solving (55 per cent)

* organisational ability (54 per cent)

* giving speeches and presentations (53 per cent)

* IToffice skills and initiative (52 per cent)

* good grammar and spelling (33 per cent)

* good general business sense (29 per cent)

* budgetingmanaging money (25 per cent).

Again, the importance attached to these skills varied widely: the overall 63 per cent who felt colleges and universities had improved their ability to work under pressure, for example, ranged from 78 per cent among 20 to 25s to 61 per cent among men.

Although students felt their time in college and university had been well spent, almost half (45 per cent) said it did not matter much which college or university they went to when it came to getting a job. This contrasted with an earlier study which found that "there was a strong theme throughout the focus groups that the overall reputation of the university was likely to be influential in determining employers' perceptions of graduates".

The most important factor for students as they settle into work is job satisfaction (77 per cent), followed by personal growth (72 per cent). High financial reward is rated as very important by only one in three.

The longitudinal study is intended to track students over five years, with this year's participants answering a further survey this year and two subsequent surveys in 2007 and 2009.

Roger McClure, chief executive of the funding councils, said data from the long-term study would be used to respond to the needs of learners more effectively.

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