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HE Research Snippet 1 - Parents And University Open Days: Key Trends

Last year we distributed a free research paper on parental involvement in university open days, 2008/09 to 2010/11. We asked if the rise in helicopter parenting and the...

Tags: HE Thinking

Andreanne Orsier, Higher Education Research Team
Andreanne Orsier, Higher Education Research Team

Andréanne heads up YouthSight’s Higher Education research team and helps universities drive commercial success.

Last year we distributed a free research paper on parental involvement in university open days, 2008/09 to 2010/11. We asked if the rise in helicopter parenting and the consumerisation of HE had resulted in a trend for higher levels of parental attendance at these events. This year, with the open day season once again in full swing, we wanted to revisit the topic with an updated (but shorter) report, looking at the 2011/12 starting cohort. The key questions we wanted to look at were: what are the latest trends in parental attendance and can the attendance of different parents (mum, dad, both parents) indicate any sort of differential ‘buying signal’?

By looking at our Higher Expectations data from the last few years, we’ve been able to address both questions.


The trend continues... but slowly

When looking at open days attended by prospective students before making their firm choice of institution, the proportion of parents who accompanied their children has grown slowly for the last few years. As shown in figure 1, for students starting university in October 2011, parents accompanied them on half (50%) of all open day events: a proportion which has increased slowly and steadily since 2009 (47%) and 2010 (49%).

These changes, although small, are statistically significant due to the large base sizes of the Higher Expectations survey. We think they constitute a minor trend. But the finding poses the question, will the big rise in tuition fees for the 2012/13 starting cohort upset the apple cart? Will Higher Expectations 2012/13 paint a very different picture of parental involvement in open days? Will major differences in the patterns of involvement by sub groups and institutions soon show up?

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    Year of starting university
Prospective student accompanied by 2008/09 % 2009/10 % 2010/11 % 2011/12 %
One or both parents 47 47 49 50
One parent 32 31 32 33
Both parents 16 16 16 17
Figure 1: Parental attendance at open days, 2008 to 2011.
Base: Higher Expectations; All open day responses - 2008 (21,673); 2009 (21,580); 2010 (23,397); 2011 (24,071). Note, the open days rated by the 2011/12 starting cohort generally relate to events attended in late 2010/11, and so on.
Statistically significant changes: An orange background indicates that this figure is significantly different to the previous year

Females are more likely than males to attend open days with either one or both their parents (53% of females attend with a parent compared to 48% of males). While there is little difference in parental attendance between those who attended open days at research-intensive universities and modern universities (51% vs. 50%), differences by individual institution are far more marked.


More parents = more involvement

While it might be a commonplace assumption that prospective students are more likely to invite (or drag along) their parents to the open days at the institutions they’re most interested in attending, does the data bear this out and, if so, to what extent?

Figure 2 shows the assumption to be true. Over four-in-ten students who brought both parents to an open day, subsequently enrolled at that institution (43%) compared to a quarter of students who brought neither parent to the open day (26%). The presence of mum is a slightly more positive indicator than the sole presence of dad - 39% of prospective students who attended with their mother only went on to enrol at the institution, compared to 36% who attended with their father only.

Clearly, the attendance of both parents is by no means conclusive evidence that an applicant is more likely to attend a particular institution (and with so many single parents it would be a grossly unjust to use this finding as an active marketing ‘tool’). Similarly, these observations should not imply any causal relationship (although there may well be some causality, how much can only be determined through further research). Nevertheless, on aggregate, the presence of both parents at university open days does imply a stronger ‘buying signal’ than the presence of one or no parents.

    Those attending with...
Subsequently attended the university or not? Neither parent
Father only
Mother only
Both parents
Subsequently attended 26 36 39 43
Subsequently didn’t attend 74 64 61 57
Figure 2: Parental attendance at open days, 2011.
Base: Higher Expectations; All open day responses – 2011: Those who attended with: Neither parent (11,595); Father only (3,016); Mother only (5,249); Both parents (4,211)



Over the last few years parental attendance at open days has very gradually increased. It seems likely that the trend will accelerate in the new higher fees environment. Those who attended open days with both parents are much more likely to subsequently enrol at an institution than those who attended with one or no parents. Higher Expectations 2012/13 will tell us a great deal more about how the picture is changing, both at an aggregate and very local level. 

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