University applications fall by 9%

24 Oct 11
There has been a 9% drop in university applications ahead of the rise in tuition fees, early figures show.

By Vivienne Russell | 24 October 2011

There has been a 9% drop in university applications ahead of the rise in tuition fees, early figures show.

Higher education courses starting in 2012 are the first where annual tuition charges have been allowed to rise to up to £9,000 a year.

The figures, published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, show that applications received by mid-October had fallen to 69,724, compared with 76,612 at the same time last year.

The majority of the data published today covers medicine, dentistry and veterinary courses and those offered by Oxford and Cambridge universities, which all have an October 15 deadline. However, applications for these degrees have fallen by only 0.8%. When they are discounted, it means applications for other courses have fallen by 31% compared with the same time last year. But students might be delaying applying until nearer the deadline of January 15.

There were also significant drops in applications from mature students. Numbers fell by 21.4% for those aged between 25 and 29, 22.7% for those in their 30s and by 27.8% for those aged 40 and over.

Ucas said that it was ‘too early in the [application] cycle to extrapolate applicant volumes forward’.

Universities UK concurred with this assessment. Chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: ‘Historically, the application figures at the end of October have proven to be unreliable indicators of the final numbers. It may also be that students are taking longer this year to consider their options.’

But others said the figures showed the introduction of higher fees next year was reflected in the drop in applicant numbers.

Martin Lewis, personal finance expert and head of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information, said: ‘We need to launch a war against student fee confusion. Fear of the changes is almost certainly one of the main reasons behind the drop in early applications – yet there’s still time to reach those who’ve been unnecessarily put off.’

Lewis said that, under the new fee regime, ‘price tag and cost are decoupled’ meaning that many graduates would repay only a fraction of the headline costs of their education, while high earners would repay many times more.

‘We need to help students and parents sit down and truly understand the real impact on them, protected from the political spittle being flung from both sides,’ he said.

The University and College Union said the figures were ‘worrying’. General secretary Sally Hunt said: ‘The government’s fees policy has been a disaster from the start and it is clearly having a serious impact on the choices young people make.’

The UCU today published a poll showing that the increase in fees is deterring 10% of A-level students from applying to university.


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