45Universities have prized and shared knowledge for the wider benefit of humanity over many centuries. It is perhaps all the more curious that this belief in the value of knowledge has been rather less evident in informing policy-making within the walls of the academy itself. But change is the order of the day. Students now lie 'at the heart of the system' (some would say they always did) and will also become the key funders of higher education over the next few years. Universities will need to secure the elusive balance between meeting the rightful expectations of the consumer and developing their students' understanding of the purpose and lifelong value of higher education. The fifth Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey provides much-needed support, offering real insights into the world of the contemporary university applicant and helping the higher education sector to understand the preferences and aspirations of its students. Practical concerns about the prospect of employment are strongly evident. Understandably and sensibly, nearly three quarters of those surveyed regarded higher education as a means of improving their job prospects. This is driving efforts by the sector to support the personal and professional development of students, whatever their subject of study and its direct relevance to the world of work.Anxieties about finance and about the new fee regime send clear messages to the sector. We need to do more to explain the actual costs and to reinforce the enduring value of higher education. It is sobering to read that one in four of those questioned would not have considered higher education under the new fees regime. Although the damage caused by poor communication of the new arrangements has been steadily mitigated by the valiant efforts of schools, colleges and universities, there is still much to do, especially to reassure those from disadvantaged groups. The survey undoubtedly provides other pointers to future development. Universities, of all places, need to keep pace with the information revolution: here students are in the vanguard, telling us that 'connectivity' is now far more important to them than facilities such as gyms or launderettes. Wireless internet access in private or university-run halls was listed as essential by over three quarters of respondents. This shift provokes much thought about the implications for the development of teaching and learning, although students are also indicating an enduring interest in face-to-face contact with their lecturers. In the midst of seismic changes to the size, structure and funding of the sector and with chill economic winds blowing around us, it is profoundly cheering that students themselves are reminding us of the continuity of our purpose. The survey records a welcome increase in those who choose higher education to improve their knowledge of a subject. It is this spirit of mutual understanding that is most usefully fostered by the survey. Universities need to understand their students but also need to demonstrate that higher education can be a genuine partnership in learning.Professor Jane Longmore Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Southampton Solent Universityintroduction
67Despite the significant sums that many students will have to pay back after graduation, the proportion who said the debt was a worthwhile investment in their future career is still overwhelming.