Why did BBC Scotland try to undermine university education?

radio scotlandOn Tuesday young people all over Scotland received their exam results.  Some will have been waiting desperately to see if their grades were good enough to apply for a university place.  Not all would have succeeded.

When, eventually, all results were collated, it transpired that more university hopefuls had succeeded this year than at any other.  Good news for all concerned including of course the Scottish government, teachers and organisations like SQA and UCAS.

So I was dismayed when I tuned into Radio Scotland on Wednesday morning to hear the presenters of Good Morning Scotland call into question the merits of university education.  “Are University Degrees really worth it?” asked GMS presenter Hayley Millar.  The question was based on a ‘survey’ published by insurance giant Aviva.


I could barely believe it.  Less than twenty four hours after a record number of Scotland’s students had found out they were going to university, here was BBC Scotland raining on their parade.  Where was this survey?  Who had taken part?

Within five minutes I had located the Aviva press release.  The lengthy headline read: UK: Generation regret: over a third of millennials who went to university regret doing so as they struggle with debts and squeezed finances.

It began with five bullet points:

•    University is a costly regret for 37% of ex-students, while 49% believe they could have got to where they are now without it
•    Majority of millennials (63%) are relying on a one-off event to help them financially in the future, rising to 72% who went to university
•    With just £156 to spare each month after essential living costs, 18% are depending on family inheritance and one in six (17%) have said they are hopeful of winning the lottery
•    Over one in three (35%) millennials agree their generation is priced out of the property market
•    EU referendum compounds money concerns of 18-35s as the proportion worried about their future finances leaps 23 percentage points since the vote

The first two sentences of the press release read:

Britain’s millennials (18-35s) are fast becoming a generation of regret, as more than one in three (37%) who went to university regret doing so given the amount of debt they now have. As they struggle to pay back tuition fees, meet daily living costs and save for the future, nearly half (49%) of millennials who went to university believe they could have got to where they are now if they hadn’t gone, Aviva’s latest Family Finances Report reveals. [my emphasis]

Tuition fees of course don’t apply to Scotland.  Any student whose home is north of the border receives free university tuition.

The survey was described as UK wide, however a PDF available for download made scant mention of Scotland.  In fact there was only one reference to Scotland – a map showing average monthly income, average savings and average house price.  There were nine separate regions of England and one from Wales.  There were specific references to the ‘north west’, ‘south west’, ‘north east’, ‘south east’, Wales and London.  The study and its conclusions appeared very heavily slanted towards England.  There was no indication as to how many of the 1073 respondents were from Scotland.

Radio Scotland continued to promote the survey as representative of Scotland, despite giving no actual Scottish breakdown of the data.  The two audio clips below demonstrate how it was being used in order to question the wisdom of going to university.



It was also the subject of the morning radio phone-in as can be heard below.  In order to emphasise the anti-university narrative, the first caller all but dismissed the necessity for university education.


I fired a quick email off to Aviva and asked how many of their respondents had actually come from Scotland.  The short answer is reproduced below.

“The millennial survey formed part of Aviva’s Family Finances Report that tracks finances across households. For the specific millennial part, those aged 18-35 were surveyed. Within Scotland specifically, 95 millennials were surveyed.”

Ninety five respondents were from Scotland, which is less than ten per cent of the one thousand and seventy three total participants.  It’s true that surveys of over one thousand will generally produce an accuracy of plus or minus three per cent.  However this survey was essentially asking about the financial effects of two different systems.

The most obvious difference, as I have already pointed out, is that students in England pay tuition fees.  They will tend to have much greater levels of debt after graduation than their Scottish counterparts.  House prices [covered in the survey] also vary wildly north and south of the border.  Indeed the survey actually highlighted regional variations across England, giving London separately from other areas of England.

This was, in essence, an English survey.  Every single one of the 95 Scottish based respondents could have expressed no regrets about having gone to university and it would have made no difference to the outcome.  Indeed we don’t even know whether the Scottish sample resulted in the same outcome.

There’s another important point.  Radio Scotland ran this story less than twenty four hours after Scottish based students received their exam results.  How many young people from deprived backgrounds will have been dissuaded from applying to university because of this coverage?  If only one student decided not to apply to university, it is one too many.

BBC Radio 4 covered the story, as well they might, given the survey was relevant to the majority of their listeners.  English students though won’t get their exam results until next week.  By then the story will have been forgotten and will have less impact.

Listeners to Radio 4 heard how students will have to endure an average debt after graduation of £44,000.  This however is in part due to the introduction of a £9,000 ceiling on tuition fees in England.  There is also the small matter of the abolition of grants for half a million of England’s poorest students.

But where did the £44,000 figure come from?  Well the Aviva report contained a reference to a study by the Sutton Trust which was published in April 2016.

‘A recent study by the Sutton Trust estimates three quarters of graduates paying £9000 tuition fees will be paying off their student loans in their fifties.’

graduate debtI tracked down this study and found something interesting.  Of the four constituent parts of the UK, Scotland had the lowest graduate debt per student – £9400.

England – £44,500
Wales – £19,000
Northern Ireland – £18,200
Scotland – £9,400

Scottish graduates leave university with less than one quarter the debt of their English counterparts.

I don’t know what prompted Radio Scotland to invest so much time and resource in promoting a study that some basic research would have suggested was relevant only to England.  I do know that the timing of the coverage was unfortunate in that it came less than a day after a record number of Scottish students earned the right to attend university.  Good news was spiked.

BBC Scotland has, for some time, exhibited an over reliance on reports and studies from third party organisations in order to pad out its news coverage.  These reports are very often politically motivated and contain questionable conclusions.  Pacific Quay management appears to accept them at face value.  Fortunately the number of Scots who accept at face value what the BBC reports, is diminishing.

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16 thoughts on “Why did BBC Scotland try to undermine university education?

  1. Donna Heddle

    Well said, GAP! I am a university lecturer and I was absolutely appalled by how this story was presented on GMS. Shameless spiking as you say.

  2. Jimbo

    The two audio clips below demonstrate to people who can hear how it was being used in order to question the wisdom of going to university.

  3. Andy Borland

    You have my sympathy for having to endure the swivel-eyed looniness of Radio Scotland on a regular basis.

    Have a wee donation sir as part recompense for your sterling efforts 🙂

  4. Iain Barker

    It is not just the daily tirade of SNP Baahd that sets the BBC apart, it is that BBC Scotland so called has nothing but a dripping fang baring hatred for Scotland and the Scots. Glad I don’t pay the TV Tax.

  5. R Lovie

    On Monday, or a couple of days before the exam results came out, BBC Radio Scotland had a story on Scot Gov not putting enough money into Uni sector so there would not be enough places for students from Scotland. This was obviously building up a narrative to have some angle for SNPbad after the exam results. They picked the wrong angle as on the day it was revealed that there was more, not less, Uni offers made. Didn’t take BBC long to take another avenue of attack though.
    The serious point here is as the BBC take more and more spurious attacks on the SNP, effective scrutiny of our elected Gov is lessened and the population is polarised into those who find the BBC reinforcing their beliefs and those who stop trusting anything the BBC says.

  6. bjsalba

    I heard this stuff on World Service several nights ago, so it may have been in the planning for a while.

    Most academics realize that Westminster is not going to replace the funding they have been getting from the EU and they know that the Scottish Government will not be in a position to do so.

    Could it be that it is because Brexit has caused many academics to look again at Independence and the BBC is trying to reduce public respect for a university education and for them?

  7. Dan Huil

    The bbc just can’t help itself. It sees every story as an opportunity to do down Scotland. Disgusting. Don’t pay the bbc tax. Let britnats pay for britnat propaganda.

  8. Kenneth Shaw

    It is now becoming clearer every day that the B.B.C in Scotland are intent on giving the Tories a contest as to who is the official opposition

  9. Mark Rowantree

    Every time you hear the nonsense spouted by that broadcaster I think that they cannot sink any lower. Until that is to the next time!

  10. Gail Hughes

    “Every single one of the 95 Scottish based respondents could have expressed no regrets about having gone to university and it would have made no difference to the outcome.”

    Hey, if it’s good enough for electing the government…

  11. Cadogan Enright

    GA , I hope you make a formal complaint every time you expose them

    Suggestion that OFGEN may take over such complaints. We will see.

  12. Jim Gauld

    No wonder, BBC Scot full of Britnat Tories e.g. Kaye Adams. Wrote to her once when she said ‘We’ when talking of Tory party. Asked her about non bias, reply? ZZZZZZZZ thats supposed to be a top journo?

  13. Clydebuilt

    Great article, GAP……. My simplistic take on the BBC was …… Under the SNP government a record number of Scots get to University…… BBC in Scotland try to get out the message that going to UNI. Is a disaster for students….

  14. Clydebuilt

    Going to post link to this on Facebook….. And email link to contacts

    The more people who read this the better.

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