University Futures 2: The role of parents as influencers
  • February 28, 2018

University Futures 2: The role of parents as influencers

University Futures 2 is currently exploring the role of parents as influencers of their children’s university ambitions, from the age of 6 to 18. We know that parents play a key role in children’s thinking and behaviour when it comes to considering and applying to university. Understanding and influencing the complex, indirect behaviours and attitudes of parents throughout their children’s childhood and adolescence is perhaps where the real opportunities lie for universities to meaningfully engage with parents.


My mum thinks that university is the be all and end all. She thinks that if you go to university, you succeed in lifeMiriam, aged 16


What are parents saying to their children about university? How can you engage them effectively?

We are currently working in collaboration with eight universities to explore the role of parents as influencers of university ambition and to understand more about how universities can build, develop and sustain meaningful relationships with parents. 

Project objectives

  • Understand how parents view their role in the decision-making process; when and where they are most/least influential
  • Determine how and to what extent parents/ seek to influence the decisions of their children
  • Explore how parents formulate their opinions and where they seek their information
  • Understand parents’ priorities when helping their child make decisions about universities, and how these reflect/differ from those of their children
  • Assess parents perceptions of support offered by schools/colleges throughout the process and how this affects their actions and thinking.


University applicants are most likely to approach their parents for information: nearly 80% rely on parents for information and nearly 40% on friends (Moogan et al., 1999). Almost all the young people interviewed in our recent study of 6 to 18 year olds’ university ambitions said that at some point their parents had talked to them about their future career (University Futures 1, Alterline 2018). In our survey we found that one of the key measures associated with university aspiration was parental assessment of the likelihood of their child applying to university.

  • How are parents forming their opinions?
  • Where do they get their information?
  • What do they say? And not say?
  • How do they rate their children’s university ambitions? What influences this?
  • What do they know about entry requirements? University life? Costs? Job prospects?
  • How influential is parental or family experiences of university?
  • What contact have they had with universities? How did they rate the contact?

Project method

We started with a collaborative workshop to shape the research objectives and discuss the issue with participating universities.

Fresh, quantitative evidence has been captured via a national online survey of  2,500 parents of 6 to 18 year olds. This was followed by a seven-day online research community, bringing together 50 parents to share their thoughts experiences and views in more depth.

Based on the findings, we will bring participating institutions together in an action workshop to discuss the recommendations, share best practice and innovate.


Beyond the opportunities for networking and sharing ideas at the kick-off workshop and action workshop, participating universities will receive:

  • A full written report examining the role of parents as influencers of university ambition written to inform further action in effectively engaging this important group.
  • A PowerPoint summarising the key findings for internal dissemination.
  • A short public report to share key findings with the sector.

Key dates

Project ends/public report available: January 2019

Interested in finding out more?

To find out more about this project please use the contact us page, call us on 0161 503 5760 or email 

You might also be interested in the next collaborative opportunity in this series – Teachers as Influencers or in reading the blog on our findings from the original research project with 6-18 year olds.