The recent press release from Sodexo states:
Research recently published shatters long-held perceptions of students as lecture-skipping, beer-drinking socialites, with modern-day undergraduates an ambitious bunch, determined to boost their job prospects and earning potential.
Three-quarters of the UK’s 1.2 million* full-time undergraduates view university as a way of improving their career potential, according to the 2008 Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey.
Money is also increasingly important to today’s career-minded students, with 60% motivated to study by a desire to achieve higher salaries, compared to just 36% in 2004.
And with anticipated graduate debts at unrivalled heights since top-up fees were introduced two years ago, the tradition of university as a party-focused ‘life experience’ is obsolete, with today’s students prepared to work hard to make their investment pay off.
Social lives are now firmly on the back burner, with less than a third of students listing this as a key reason to go to university.
The number of hours students spend socialising while at university has also dropped dramatically in the last two years. In 2006, 44% of undergraduates spent five hours or more of a typical weekday on their social lives, whereas a mere 14% devote this much time nowadays, and nearly a third (31%) spend just an hour or less each day having fun.
When they do venture out, students aren’t partying in university bars. Two-thirds (67%) now do most of their socialising off campus – a sharp increase from 2006, when 44% of undergraduates were moving away from a university-centred social life.
And it seems the nation’s binge drinking culture does not extend to university life. More than four in ten (44%) students claim to drink a maximum of 10 units – or five pints – each week, and a remarkable 23% do not drink at all.
“The whole university experience is becoming much more disjointed, and less centred around campus,” says Peter Taylor, head of universities for Sodexo.
“Two thirds of students live in non-university accommodation, so it’s no wonder that most socialising takes place off campus. However the community spirit hasn’t disappeared entirely – university coffee bars, cafes and restaurants are still popular daytime haunts, with three times the number of students choosing on-site eateries at meal times, compared to off-campus venues.”
Instead of partying, it seems today’s university swots are hitting the books hard, with more than three-quarters (76%) spending two hours or more of a typical weekday on private study, and over a quarter (28%) devoting four hours or above.
This generation of students are also health conscious. Nearly two-thirds (63%) do an hour’s exercise or more each day, and 84% make an effort to eat healthily.
Unfortunately their finances aren’t so healthy, with the majority (63%) expecting to accumulate debts of over £10,000 by the time they leave – a significant jump from 2006, when 39% predicted they would end up with debts this high. Strikingly, over a third (37%) expect to leave more than £17,500 in the red, and nearly one in five (18%) anticipate debts of over £20,000.
Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the majority of students are taking this in their stride, with almost two-thirds (64%) feeling confident that they are making a sensible investment in their future career.
And interestingly, money concerns come far lower down the rankings than those about work or results. Seven in ten students (70%) worry about achieving the degree classification they want – up from 57% in 2006 – while just 43% lose sleep over money.
“In the past, socialising was as much a part of university life as attending lectures, but this research shows that the university experience has now radically changed,” comments Professor Sally Burrows, Associate Dean of Bradford University’s School of Management.
“Today’s average undergraduate is extremely hardworking – often working part time as well as studying. They socialise less, drink in moderation, rarely skip lectures and worry about getting the results they need to succeed in the competitive job market.”