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Vital role for universities

23 June 2011

Beacons image WEB

Most people in Wales believe the nation’s universities make a valuable contribution to society, a new survey reveals.

The Welsh Attitudes to Universities 2011 survey has shown that 82% of respondents believe universities make a valuable contribution to Welsh culture; 81% of respondents feel they should be proud of the high standard of education provided by Welsh universities; and 60% agree that universities are much more open than they were a few years ago.

In addition, when asked about the economic contribution of universities in Wales, 73% felt the sector had a role to play in delivering a highly skilled workforce and by attracting inward investment.

The survey was conducted by Beacon for Wales, which aims to promote public engagement with all Wales’ universities. As well as aiming to uncover attitudes among the public to universities, the all-Wales survey also investigated how far the public connect with universities and whether barriers exist to getting involved with higher education.

The study found that a larger proportion (33%) of those in the higher socio-economic groups attended events and they also attended more events (2.3 per year) compared to the lower groupings (20% and 1.8 per year). Cardiff University events were attended by the most people, attracting one third of all those who attended a university event in the last 12 months. The other universities in Wales each had between 10 and 15% of the total.

However, there was less awareness of events and attendance at events among people over 55. In this age group, 15% said they had not heard of any of the activities and less than one-fifth had attended any.

The main barriers to participating in university engagement activities were not enough time (22%), the university being too far or too difficult to get to (16%), lack of interest (12%) and not knowing what is going on (12%). These four reasons were the main barriers identified both by those who attended events and those who did not. However, 10% of those who did not attend an event in the last 12 months also said they felt that they were too old to engage with universities.

Bruce Etherington, Beacon for Wales Manager, said: "This research is incredibly encouraging. It has not only shown that there is a widespread belief that universities make a positive impact on society, both culturally and economically, but that the value the public places on higher education doesn’t generally differ across socioeconomic group, by gender or by age.

"What this survey has also shown is that despite this positive attitude, there is room for improvement particularly in addressing some of the barriers identified in the survey for example reaching more people over 55. This will require a degree of flexibility and innovation, but I am confident that universities are well placed, and want to further improve their community engagement."

Roger Carter, Head of Research, Business and Communities at the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, said: "At a time of increased interest in the role and funding of universities, we welcome the strong signals that have come out of the survey from the Welsh public about the important place universities have in modern life.

"HEFCW continues to support and encourage our higher education institutions to enlarge their imprint on Wales in all matters affecting the economic, social and cultural aspects of everyday life.

"The Beacon for Wales is to be commended for shining this spotlight on the impacts universities undoubtedly have on Welsh society, including on those areas where we must all strive for improvement."

The research was presented to an audience of Welsh Assembly Members at a Higher Education Wales event in Cardiff Bay on Wednesday 22 June 2011.

The Beacon for Wales is a partnership between Cardiff University, University of Glamorgan, BBC Wales, Amgueddfa Cymru and Techniquest. It is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust who are providing over £1.2 million from 2008 – 2011. As part of its work, the Beacon for Wales has awarded funds (£320K) for 28 public engagement partnership projects across Wales.

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