Despite the annual furore over educational standards, whipped into a frenzy by bored media during exam results season, new figures show the public is not convinced A-levels are actually getting easier.
Just 51 per cent of the 3,000 respondents to PRWeek/OnePoll's latest survey said they thought the exams were getting easier. Marginally more - 56 per cent - felt the introduction of the new A* grade would help better identify the brightest students.
But the public is not enthusiastic about university degrees. More than half the respondents - 57 per cent - said degrees were now ten-a-penny and devalued by the increasing number of people going into full-time university education.
Media coverage this year has focused on the huge pressure on university places, and our graph shows most people believe the reason for this squeeze is that more people are choosing to study for longer instead of getting jobs.
Much has also been written about poorer students and availability of places, and there are fears that international students, who pay higher fees, are being given priority. Our research shows that 61 per cent of respondents agree that universities are shunning UK students in favour of those from outside the EU.
However, just 34 per cent of respondents said there should be a set quota of university places for poorer students even if this meant accepting lower grades.
Most respondents, 60 per cent, felt places should be allocated on academic merit only. And 51 per cent said a university education should only be available to those with a high intellect, regardless of income.
HOW I SEE IT - Justin Shaw, Director, education practice, Communications Management
The media-bashing of education standards linked to improved A-level results and the frenzied picture of the scramble for university places has become an annual silly season fixture.
It is difficult for anyone to get a true reading of just how well our students are performing when these statistics are adapted by many different parties to hammer home their own case. This survey shows that several long-standing, traditional perceptions still remain strong - such as the perceived value of Oxbridge degrees against those from the other 120-plus universities, and that A-levels are still regarded as 'the gold standard'. But there is also a gradual shift in favour of alternative routes to fulfilling learning and career-building.
However, it is going to take a long time before the merits of a wider range of newer universities and the terrific work of the FE sector are held in similar esteem.
Should universities have to keep a set number of places for students from less wealthy backgrounds?
Yes - 34%
No, admit on academic merit only - 60%
No, they need money - 6%
Are A-levels the best option for 16-18 education?
Yes - they are gold standard - 48%
No, they are outdated - 31%
No, vocational qualifications are better - 21%
75% of respondents said they did not feel the coalition Government would help poorer people get a university education
72% said degrees from Oxbridge were more valuable than from other universities
61% agreed with commentators that universities are increasingly shunning UK students in favour of foreign candidates who pay higher fees
57% said degrees have been devalued by the increasing number of people going into full-time university education
Survey of 3,000 members of the public conducted by global research agency OnePoll