UK university applications down as fees rise


NUS President Liam Burns: "The perception of debt will be playing heavily in the minds of older students"

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University applications from UK students for the first year of higher tuition fees are down by 8.7%, according to figures from the admissions service.

With fees rising to up to £9,000 per year, the impact has been biggest for England's universities - down by 9.9%.

In Scotland, where Scottish students do not pay fees, there was a fall of 1.5%.

Universities UK said the "dip is far less dramatic than many were initially predicting".

Universities Minister David Willetts said school-leaver applications from the most disadvantaged areas had not been disproportionately affected by the fees increase - with a decline of only 0.2%

"It is encouraging that applications from people from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds remain strong," said Mr Willetts.

'Most expensive'

But Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU lecturers' union, said the "figures are very worrying and once again highlight the government's folly in raising tuition fees to as much as £9,000 a year.


There has been intense speculation over whether hiking tuition fees would put a road block across university applications and ambitions to boost social mobility.

There has been an impact - with a much bigger drop in applications in England than in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

But within England it's a more complex picture.

Mature and male students are more likely not to have applied this year.

Among school-leavers, the proportion applying has slipped from about 35% to 34%. It's a fall but not the cliff-edge collapse that some had feared.

Students might strongly resent the fees regime, but with little other option, they are still applying - in numbers larger than a couple of years ago.

School leavers in wealthy areas remain three times more likely to apply than in the poorest - but the gap isn't getting any wider.

The biggest impacts could be within individual universities.

The consumer-driven model means that fees provide the funding - and a sudden localised drop in applications could mean tough decisions about the viability of courses.

"Applications in England are down over 50% more than in any other part of the UK as a result of the government making it the most expensive country in the world in which to gain a public degree."

A breakdown of the UK figures show a 4% fall in applications in Northern Ireland and 1.9% in Wales.

The figures published by the Ucas admissions service show that by the 15 January deadline there were 462,507 applications for courses beginning in September.

This represented a 8.7% drop in applications from students in the UK - but an increase in overseas applications meant that the overall figure was 7.4% lower than at the same point last year.

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of leading universities, says that the underlying longer-term trend remains an increase in demand for university places - with these latest figures considerably higher than three years ago.

"Despite all the hype, fee reforms are unlikely to cause a long-term decline in applications. In the past a fall in applications in the first year of higher fees has been followed by increases in subsequent years."

But the gap between men and women going to university looks set to widen. Women are already in a majority - and the application figures show a sharper fall among men than women.

When gender differences are combined with differences within the UK, wide variations are revealed.

Northern Ireland has a much higher rate of applications among 18 year olds - and it means that women in Northern Ireland are more than twice as likely to apply than men in Wales.

Mature students

There is also a breakdown by age group - and this shows that among 18 year olds, across the UK, a decline of 3.6%, compared with last year, with greater drops in applications among older students.

National Union of Students president, Liam Burns, expressed concern about this "worrying drop in the number of those aged over 21 making applications".

Universities UK's Nicola Dandridge said the dip in applications from 18-year-olds was not as great as feared

"These are likely to be unemployed people looking to gain skills for work, those who had been shut out by student number controls, or those with a range of other financial commitments and pressures."

There had been much debate about whether students would be influenced by fee levels - and the private BPP University College, which charges £5,000 per year for a three-year course, is reporting that applications have more than doubled.

The Ucas figures include an analysis comparing applications from school leavers in the poorest and richest areas of England.

In the most disadvantaged areas, the steady increase of recent years has stopped, dipping by 0.2%.

But in the wealthiest areas, where youngsters are more than three times as likely to apply, there has been a bigger fall, down by 2.5%.

Ucas chief executive, Mary Curnock Cook, said: "Widely expressed concerns about recent changes in higher education funding arrangements having a disproportionate effect on more disadvantaged groups are not borne out by these data."

Labour's higher education spokeswoman, Shabana Mahmood, said the increase in fees and the drop in applications showed "how out of touch ministers have become from the needs and aspirations of families up and down the country".

Overseas degrees

The 1994 Group of research intensive universities said that figures showed that some UK students "have obviously been wary of applying this year".

The group's chairman, Professor Michael Farthing, said "the uncertainty caused by the government's haphazard approach to reform has not helped".

Nick Davy, higher education policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said: "We are concerned by the drop in student applications, particularly at a time of record levels of unemployment among young people."

There have also been signs of an increase in UK students applying overseas.

Maastricht University in the Netherlands, where fees are £1,500 per year, is reporting a surge in applications.

The university is forecasting that they will receive 600 applications from UK students during the current admissions cycle.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    Let's have an education system we can be proud of. Free to students. Living costs paid. Highest standards. No mickey-mouse courses. No third rate institutions. Quality not quantity. And at the same time make the possession of a trade (plumber, electrician, nurse) a source of pride and not derision by the pseudo intelligentsia in the media and political classes. Recognise it? Britain c.1985.

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.


    My Son is forecast 3 AAA'a but has beentold we siomply can not afford to fund University. We have always instilled in him good financial sense, and however you dress it up he would still be left with a debt of £30K plus after leaving Uni.

    What do you mean WE, you wont pay any of it, and you obviously dont have much faith in your kids ability to progress to well paid employ on the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    £20,000 leading to a degree in Medicine / Physics = Good Deal
    £20,000 leading to a degree in Social Studies / Media = ???

    Compile your own lists according to your own prejudices, or just look at which subjects lead to jobs, and which subjects lead to high levels of unemployed graduates, as it seems lots of 18 year olds are now doing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    Borrow £27k from UK gov. Work abroad and you pay it back how exactly?
    Borrow £20k for foreign university course supporting overseas uni. & infrastructure.

    Society in reverse the 1% of researchers could pay for all the rest. If big Co. makes £bn from uni trained researcher why shouldn't tax be put back in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    1958Inbetweener, firstly the word is maths. Secondly, the model is not flawed. The current system means that the most the government can get back is £3000. In the new system, even if you only pay back half your loan you are paying back £4500. Basically the government is now able to get back some of the money that previously it was giving to universities and not getting back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    When will apparantly bright people realise that there is no such thing as Free Education, Free Prescriptions, Free Medical care etc etc. It may be free at point of delivery but it isn't free. Someone, usually someone very remote from the beneficiary, has to pay for it. If the increase in fees stops Unis from running courses unlikely to lead to a job then that surely is no bad thing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    Well done!. As a former employer I always wished there were more like you. For 90% of my vacancies, attitude and a strong work ethic counted more than a paper certificate. I became frustrated by interviewing many graduates who thought the world owed them a living but couldn't speak clearly, write decent English or offer any kind of practical skill. I suspect it's even worse now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    516 tonep "Jeez its like banging in a rusty nail. Telling me to do the "math" (whatever that is) when he doesn't understand how it works - the nerve of it."
    I've two kids at University and know exactly how it works. Only a bit difficult to present it in the number of characters allowed. Just out of interest, do you understand the difference between a tax and a charge? There is one you know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 527.

    A job well done by the government. Finally, students are having to make a real decison about going to University or not. In the past, it was a default decision, a right of passage to go to uni. It was cheap, a great laugh and didnt really matter what course or grades were achieved.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    It's not a handout, but is a graduate paying back a loan from their £21k+ Salary worse off than the majority of 2.5m+ unemployed that want to work. Or our public sector workers facing years of pay freezes?

    I think the influence of parent's wealth is overplayed too; only the wealthiest would be subsidising loan repayments.

    We should divert limited taxpayers money to the neediest in society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 525.

    A history of the higher education mess up. Germany has lots of graduates - we need more to look clever! Let's first make all the Poly's into Uni's, so we don't upset the thickos. Next add lots of non courses like hotel management etc. Oh lots of kids now want to come. Ah but we've run out of money. Mmm - best make them all pay then. Result - a total reversal and once again only for the rich.

  • rate this

    Comment number 524.

    there are those who drink.. or get very poor degrees. If the latter are put off maybe that's a good thing
    I had a lecturer at College in the 80s when loans, fees, were first introduced by the tories. He argued it was a good thing, it would weed out the slackers, he got his degree when it was all free.
    Later he would boast about partying & getting drunk all year & then cramming!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 523.

    @roisinbt - 513

    yes, the arts can be liberating for many. As can theology and philosophy. However, your career prospects are a bit bleaker if you study Media Studies at a 20 year old institute than if you study Literature at an established one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 522.

    As a university applicant, I get frustrated by the fact that anyone can get a degree. Putting the fees up would eliminate the poorer deserving students and increase the number of rich students who waste their time doing worthless degrees. Why not invest more into training for jobs that don't need degrees, and leave the universities to select the hard working students who deserve to go to uni?

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    Oh no .....How will UK Plc survive now thatr there will 9% less of these daft, worthless degrees being dished out?

    At least now those that do not go to Uni can go and look for work, good luck there guys, rather than waste their time and tax payers money.

    Sadly I think the reality of the dole queue will fall on these guys four years earlier than it may have done otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 520.

    No point sending more people to uni and charging high annual fees if there aren't decent jobs for them when they graduate. Uni should be reserved for the top 10% academically, everyone who goes should receive a grant to cover living expenses, abolish fees and make sure the courses are demanding. More skilled aprenticeships should be created for the other school leavers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 519.

    I think your point applies just as well to people learning trades. If they are lazy and don't work then they shouldn't be given a place. I personally worked hard and got a very good degree. Those that are clever and work hard; are not from a poor enough family to get any scholarships etc but are not from a well off family either are those that will lose out the most.

  • rate this

    Comment number 518.

    Many modern "easier" degrees subjects are a waste of time financially. Degrees were really meant ONLY for those jobs you could NEVER do without a degree (traditional subjects). Many of the jobs requiring the “new, easier” degree subjects were done perfectly well by people without such degrees in the past. Now those jobs require a degree, but pay the same poor rates they have always done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 517.

    It is a shame that this government wants us to believe that higher education is a "consumer's decision", something one purchases for their personal gain, like a new car.
    Higher education is a collective way to better and complete society. How will builders work without architects? How will hospitals work with cooks but no doctors? The consequences of this policy have yet to fully develop...

  • rate this

    Comment number 516.

    502 1958

    "tonep480 refer to my earlier post on the flawed model. Care to do the math on how long it will take somebody repaying £7 a month to repay a debt of £36k which is accruing fresh interest every day? "

    Jeez its like banging in a rusty nail. Telling me to do the "math" (whatever that is) when he doesn't understand how it works - the nerve of it.


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