I think, in British English, to "what do you read at university" is basically the equivalent of "what's your major/what are you studying" in American English. Here, is the question, what specific books "they" are reading? If so, kind of a random question. If it really is about what (specific) subject matter is being studied, then this may be one of those areas where a word-for-word translation is more confusing than not.
I'd like to know that as well. I had an impression like this sentence could be said by an old person asking what are the new generations reading at the universities these days. Something along the lines: ' in my days we read quality literature but I wonder what they are reading at the universities these days...' ...maybe I'm reading too much into it XD
you don't need the article for university even in your example. i.e. you can say "in my days we read quality literature, but I wonder what they are reading at university these days." at university is more commonly used.. i haven't seen "in the universities". either way, this sentence is off.
It's an expression meaning 'what do they study'.. So I disagree with the English translation here, shouldn't be this literal!