Girl guiding survey reports austerity impacting on UK girls’ education and career aspirations

The 2011 Girls’ Attitudes Survey by the Girl Guides has reported that financial uncertainty is shaping girls’ and young women’s career and academic aspirations.

Since 2009, the annual survey has explored 5 key areas:

• Family and Relationships
• Environment and World Events
• Education, Training, Skills and Careers
• Society, Culture and Community
• Health and Wellbeing

This year 1200 young women aged 7-21 participated. In the Education, Training, Skills and Careers section, young women were asked about their school experiences, their thoughts about their teachers and curriculum, and also career and education plans for the future.

The report noted that the girls felt strongly that the opportunity to go to university should be open to all (87%), and the recent increase in tuition fees to on average £9000 for undergraduate courses was ‘unfair’ (82%).

For many young women surveyed continuing their studies was increasingly seen as a big financial risk and a barrier for many, who were uncertain about the financial future and benefits of a university education. As the report states:

‘Recent changes in education funding have had a major impact on girls’ attitudes to higher education and careers. Concern about the cost of college or university, and being able to find a job, is placing increasing pressure on them at secondary school.’

In concluding, the report provides a series of recommendations, which suggest a potential campaigning role for the UK Girl Guides, noting:

‘The increase in tuition fees is placing more pressure on girls at a younger age and causing them to view higher education as a financial risk, albeit one many are willing to take. This change in attitudes underlines the need for easily available and authoritative advice on universities and student finance. <>With half of all girls put off higher education by the increase in tuition fees, urgent action is needed to ensure that university is an option for all and not restricted to those who are able to take a financial risk.’

The financial riskiness of continuing education in this era of austerity voiced by these young women, detracts from previous New Labour administration’s commitment to the widening participation agenda. Despite the young women’s concerns, the UK Minister for Universities, David Willetts’ has continually expressed his commitment to the ‘fairness’ and ‘affordability’ of the new student finance system from 2012. However, the Girl Guide’s survey notes that 16 and 17 years old young women are already seriously reconsidering their future education plans. With the BBC also reporting that youth unemployment in the UK is currently at a record high, for 16 to 24-year-olds, and female unemployment at its highest for 23 years, these are bleak times for young people considering their future career and education prospects. An issue that the young women’s survey clearly reflects.

Fin Cullen
December 2011

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