Students’ aspirations and the perceived value of a university degree: A cross-country analysis of students’ perspectives in European higher education systems

This paper examines the aspirations of students in Higher Education (HE) settings in six European countries – Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain. Drawing on 54 focus groups, conducted with 295 undergraduate students in 2017-18, we analyse the reasons students gave for pursuing HE and explore the way they perceive the value of their degree programme. Despite differences in HE structures, data show strong similarities in students’ views across Europe. We find that students’ aspirations can be varied and complex. However, when viewed from the perspective of future employment, students tended to believe that the value of their university degree was mediated by both the place and the subject of study, even in ostensibly ‘horizontal’ HE systems.