Sodexo records shifting attitudes

Sodexo, the world’s largest services company, has announced the findings of its ten-year anniversary University Lifestyle Survey

This is Sodexo’s first survey since the introduction of the new university fee structure.

Since the sharp rise in university fees in 2012, the decision to attend university has become an increasingly complex choice for UK students. This is due to mounting financial pressures, changing attitudes towards university life and the value of education received, according to the results of the 2014 Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey – a representative survey of over 140 universities and 2,000 students throughout the United Kingdom.

As a result of the change in fee structures, expected student debt levels have increased substantially since the last Sodexo report in 2012. Almost one in five students in the UK (17%) expects to take on debts in excess of £40,000, compared to 2% previously, while 58% expect at least £20,000 of debt. During a difficult economic climate, such financial impact of attending university has made choosing whether to enter higher education more crucial than ever, with over a quarter of students consulting their parents in making the choice – more than double the amount in 2012. Though, counter-intuitively, the amount of students who report being worried about their debt on graduation decreased by 10% in 10 years (from 14% in 2004 to 4% in 2014) despite the rising levels of debt observed.

More strikingly, higher debt expectations have caused a sharp increase in the level of student dissatisfaction with the value of their education, with over a quarter of students (28%) saying they did not think accruing so much debt was acceptable as a career investment, up by 10 per cent in just two years. Debt is also linked to 23%of students changing their original choice of course.

Jane Longmore, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Southampton Solent University and co-author and validator of the survey, noted: “This year’s survey results suggest that a time bomb may be ticking: the percentage of students who think of higher education as ‘the next obvious step’ diminished from 42% among second and third years to 35% among the most recent cohort. This finding prompts an interesting question: would nearly two-thirds of students be drawn to a plausible alternative to higher education if their return on investment could be better justified elsewhere? The Australian experience would seem to suggest otherwise; since the cap went in 2008, student numbers have risen by a national average of more than 20%. Universities will have to work harder to demonstrate the value of higher education to students.”

The higher investment has led today’s students to focus more on the end-game – with a rising amount choosing to go to university to improve their future employment opportunities (76%) and to increase their earning power (62%). This marks a significant increase to the only 36% of students focused on increasing their earnings in 2004. In light of this, the need to achieve a ‘good degree’ is more pressing than ever. Some 84% of students said they worried about securing their desired degree classification in 2014, far higher than the 72% troubled by academic concerns two years ago and a notable increase from the 61% citing this as a concern in 2004, when the survey was first undertaken. This is indicative of the added pressure to gain at least a 2:1 – a must for many employers – when students are investing far higher sums in their education than previous generations.

Such added pressures have contributed to the observed trend over the past six years of students focusing more firmly than ever on their studies, rather than enjoying active social lives. More students than ever were worried about balancing their academic, social and work commitments – the second biggest source of stress (with 69%citing this, up from 41% in 2004). In fact, some 52%of students cited saving as the main reason to socialise less. This is reflected in more than three-quarters of respondents (76%) saying they spend £20 or less a week on socialising – up from 61% in 2012. In order to achieve this, half of all students choose to stay in when hanging out with friends, with a third of students (33%) saying they do not drink at all when socialising (up from 26% in 2010).

As a result, most students view studying hard as their priority while in university. Hitting the books is the main activity of the day, with nearly three quarters (74%) spending two to five hours a day in lectures, seminars or in the lab and about three-quarters (72% ) devoting two to five hours a day to private study. Moreover, some 18% of this year’s respondents said they spend between six and eight hours a day in lectures, seminars or in the lab – a marked increase on the 9% who had this amount of timetabled study two years ago. In light of this, it is not surprising that an increasing number of students, 61%, have managing a heavy university workload as a major source of concern, over double the amount in 2004 (30%).

The increased emphasis on studying was also reflected in the decrease in the number of hours students spent working part-time – only 36% said they work 11-20 hours a week compared to 55% in 2004 while 53% work less than 10 hours a week, up from 36% per cent ten years ago.

Peter Taylor, Strategic Development Director at Sodexo, commented: “With greater challenges facing the students of tomorrow, universities need to be aware that living as a student, for three or more years, is a bigger decision to undertake than it was in the past. Not only must universities work harder to attract students, they must also accommodate dramatic changes in lifestyle and provide the best environment possible, to prepare students for the challenges they may face after they graduate.”


Reasons for choosing and funding a university education 

* 76% to improve future employment opportunities (74% in 2012)

* 62% chose to go to university to increase their earning power (36% in 2004)

* 63% to improve their knowledge in an area of interest

* 48% degree was essential for chosen career path

* 35% of first-year students reported that university was ‘the next obvious step’ (compared to 42% of those in the second year or above)

* 27% said that parental pressure was the reason for going to university

* 10% said £9,000 fees had led them to change their course or career and (9% from fear of high debt levels)

* 55% were influenced by internet research when choosing a university, up from 27% in 2012

* 21% gleaned information on universities through social network sites up from 11% in 2008

* 26% took parental advice (12% in 2012)

* 23% were swayed by teacher advice (14% in 2012)

* 50% placed importance on successful open days

* 35% said transportation links to home mattered when picking an institution

* 33% said ability to live away from home but close enough for support (29% in 2012)

* 38% prioritised campus universities

* 17% expect to take on debts in excess of £40,000 (2% in 2012)

* In 2004 2% expected debts over £20,000 compared to the 58% of students today who expect the same level of debt

* 13% thought they would leave university debt-free

* 28% said they did not think their expected debt levels were acceptable in terms of a career investment (18% in 2012)

* Students at new universities more likely to work during term time than those at traditional institutions, 29% versus 21%

* 58% of students at traditional universities receive financial support from parents compared to 38% at new institutions

* 19% rely on bank overdrafts to keep afloat





* 34% live in a flat or house rented in the private sector

* 48% pay more than £300 a month towards their housing

* 37% found their student housing via the university’s website



* 50% stayed in to socialise or went to their friends’ flats, halls or houses (42% in 2012)

* 26% socialise off campus compared to 19% who stay at university-run bars, cafes and clubs

* 76% said they spend only £20 or less on going out with friends (67% in 2012) of which 20% said they spent nothing at all (14% in 2012)

* 12% spend more than £30 a week on socialising, including smoking and drinking

* 47% of students in their 2nd year or higher now live quieter lives than in earlier years, compared to freshers

* 80% who socialised less did so because they had higher academic workloads

* 52% also mentioned a lack of cash as a reason for socialising less

* 18% said pressures of holding a part-time job had impeded their ability to get out more often

* 10% spend five hours a day or more socialising compared to 33% back in 2006

* 33% are now tee-total (26% in 2012)

* 40% drink alcohol just once a week


Eating habits and requirements

* 45% spend £20 or less each week in term-time on feeding themselves

* 74% cook a meal from scratch using only raw ingredients at least once a week

* 79% make an effort to eat healthily

* 51% said they miss at least one meal a week

* 34% wanted to eat locally-sourced food compared to 51% in 2008

* 44% expect Fair Trade produce to be available

* The importance of free range produce has waned, 63% thought it important in 2008 compared to 39% in the latest survey

* Sustainable fish is no longer important with just 20% expecting it compared to 46% in 2008.

* 66% name price as the key factor in choosing where to buy a meal, down from 74% in 2012


How students spend their time and money

* 35% spend money on books in a typical week (42% in 2012)

* 50% spend between £1 and £20 on travel during an average week in term-time

* 8% said they spend more than 10 hours a week in the university library, once the main place of academic learning outside lectures and seminars

* 69% spend 10 hours or less a week logged on to Facebook, Twitter and similar sites

* 74% spend two to five hours a day in lectures, seminars or in the lab

* 72% spend two to five hours a day doing private study

* 21% dedicated some time to paid work in the average day

* 51% said they devote an hour or two in a typical day to sport or exercise, 45% said they do none at all

* 23% said they spend 10 hours a week or more accessing digital learning materials (27% in 2012)

* 54% spend one hour travelling to classes


Personal pressures


* 84% said they worried about securing their desired degree classification (72% in 2012 and 61% when the survey was first carried out in 2004)

* 37% listed achieving a minimum 2.1 as their primary concern (27% in 2012)

* 54% are worried about finding a job after graduation (56% in 2012)

* 63% of those living at home were concerned about their job prospects

* 36% were concerned about feeling isolated


University facilities and services


* 31% said they wanted to see more lectures online

* 76% said they would like to see their normal lectures recorded to view at another time

* 24% said good Wi-Fi access was the top factor when looking at accommodation

* 2% listed having a student bar or café as a top priority

* 56% said their university’s sustainability strategies and efforts to reduce waste or cut power usage mattered to them

* 22% wanted improvement in social areas, such as bars, cafes and clubs run by the university

* 21% required better IT facilities with 13% citing it as a top priority

* 19% requested improved library services, 12% of students said this was the most important improvement they’d like to see

* 16% called for improved sports facilities, drops to 6% when asked to choose one area to improve


Click here for the full report:  


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