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New research highlights the gap between parent and student perceptions regarding ‘The Leap’ to university

  • 12 June 2018
  • By Jenny Shaw

This guest blog has been kindly written for us by Jenny Shaw, Head of Student Services and Insight at Unite Students.

Unite Students has launched a new campaign, The Leap, inspired by the findings of research into applicant expectations that we conducted last year in partnership with HEPI. The Leap focuses on the transition from home to university. Moving away to university is a huge life moment, comparable to getting married, or buying your first house, but in the media and popular culture it receives far less attention. As well as celebrating this transition, the campaign provides evidenced advice to both young people and to their parents or guardians to make that transition as smooth and positive as possible.

We asked 1000 parents and 1000 16-19 year olds questions, covering topics from cooking to discussion topics between parents and children before making The Leap. What we found was a gap between what parents expect their children to struggle with at university, and what prospective students actually believe will be difficult to work out for themselves. The results show that this leads to parents giving advice in areas that students already feel confident in and ready for, but the topics that worry them the most are being missed.

Parents and guardians believe their children will struggle with basic life skills, including cooking, cleaning, and looking after money far more than young people do. In fact, 72% of parents think they will have to lend their child money before the end of the student’s first term. Conversely, only 33% of 16-19 year olds expect to borrow money, with 80% being confident they can manage their money effectively.

Similarly, 78% of prospective students are confident they can cook a meal from scratch, where as their parents are far less confident in their culinary skills, with only 55% believing their child will be able to do this.

However, certain key topics are being missed out of pre-university prep talks. We found that most of these talks about how to live independently focus on practical matters. Only 23% of young adults say they have been given advice on sex or mental health, 28% on relationships, 34% on drugs and 42% on alcohol. 14% say they haven’t been given advice on any of these topics.

From the Reality Check research, conducted in partnership with HEPI, only 66% of prospective students with no current mental health conditions are confident they can find the correct support whilst at university. Even more worryingly, only 37% with a current mental health condition have or intend to disclose their condition to their university, so if these topics are being missed in discussions with parents, they could potentially never be addressed.

This raises the question as to whether a decline in mental health could potentially be averted. If these sensitive topics were addressed earlier, they wouldn’t be left up to students to reactively work out when a challenge presents itself. Parents and guardians shouldn’t lose the opportunity to talk with young people before university about how they might seek help if they’re facing difficulties. Most importantly, they should be clear that students are entitled to seek help if university life is difficult, and that this is a positive thing to do.

As part of The Leap campaign, we are recognising that the move to university is a complex time, for students, parents and guardians. We urge parents to start having these frank, perhaps tricky conversations, and to have them earlier. This could help to align expectations with the realities, and ensure a better experience of The Leap into independent living at university.

You can read more about The Leap whitepaper here.

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