Students have been much criticised over the years, with numerous commentators saying graduates lack the skills needed by the modern workplace and detractors viewing university as a way for lazy youngsters to delay working for a few years.
To show just how outdated this viewpoint is, Cardiff University commissioned a survey delving into the views and attitudes of today's aspiring students and undergraduates, comparing these with previous generations. The findings are revealing.
The most drastic shift has undoubtedly been in the importance placed on gaining employability skills, which is twice as important to students today as in the past, with two thirds of those applying to university this year saying this is a key consideration.
This trend is also borne out in the increased focus on work experience, with over half of students now doing a placement before they start university and the vast majority having done so by the end of their first year of studying. This compares to over a third of previous generations of graduates who didn't do work experience until they had graduated.
Building up an impressive CV is also a big focus for today's students, with over a third of those applying this year already thinking about what they can include, whether that is work experience or involvement in societies, sports clubs and voluntary work.
In response to this demand, universities must therefore show they can provide not just the academic aspect of higher education but also the personal and professional skills required by the workplace. For example, at Cardiff University we have built up close relationships with top employers and professional bodies to ensure that graduates are equipped with the transferable skills, knowledge and attitudes needed after university. As a result, our graduates continue to be targeted by top employers and every year more than 94% enter employment, professional training or postgraduate study.
We have seen from the final UCAS application figures that once population changes have been accounted for higher fees appear not to have affected the desire of many to attend university. Young people understand that higher education continues to offer many lifetime benefits.
However, for their increased fees students want quality education from quality universities and they are doing their research to make sure they make the right decision.
This year's applicants have visited more universities before applying than any applicants before them. At Cardiff our most recent Visit Day was the most popular ever, and our survey showed over half of this year's applicants have visited at least three universities as part of their research.
There is also evidence that parents are playing a greater role with 82% of the survey respondents saying Mum and Dad will influence their decision. We found at our Visit Day that parents want to know about career prospects, contact hours, investment in facilities - ultimately what will they get for their money. Quite naturally, parents are also concerned about the levels of debt that their sons and daughters will incur and in the financial support and advice on offer.
As universities, we welcome this more vigorous and questioning approach - after all that spirit of enquiry, testing and research is what we are trying to inculcate in all our students while they are with us. We want the best of the best to continue to enter higher education and leave with the best prospects possible. All universities are different and students must ensure they choose the right one for them and for the right reasons.