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 695.

    This is still a country where rich kids go first in the queue before poor kids with more talent. What are they doing with my taxes? Certainly not investing much in the future of this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    What you say is true but not, I think, quite the point. People who have money in the family - well heeled (not rich) are not afraid of debt. Kids without that background fear debt.

    It's not about logic, it's about self confidence, most kids from poorer backgrounds lack that confidence. It's like 'Who wants to be a Millionaire', some contestants don't gamble, they bottle it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 693.

    681. Ex Tory Voter
    your generation - who benefitted from free education."

    Not necessarily free - grants were means tested. A lot of parents, particularly middle class, had to stump up some proportion, up to 100%.
    Not the tuition fee element - that was always free no matter what your parents' income. Only the maintenance element was means-tested.

  • rate this

    Comment number 692.

    @ 682.SuperJase1985

    When are you going to realise that our degrees are Honours degrees too? (Infact I have no idea why you think they're not!) What's more, an extra £1200 isn't all that much to not have to relocate up to Scotland and spend an extra year of rent and living costs to get the same level of degree. You really should think things through before posting...

  • rate this

    Comment number 691.

    1997~ 12% school leavers go to uni. Labours plan to raise this to 50% was total stupidity,human beings dont get that exponentially more intelligent, that quickly resulted in the dumbing down of education,introducing "targets" that could'nt be met without telling the students exactly what was on the exam paper.Students didnt learn the subject only how to get through the exam.result stupid graduates

  • rate this

    Comment number 690.

    University tuition must be free to make it equally available to all youngsters regardless of their background and their parents' income"

    You do realise that would, according to the news a year or so back, require somewhere around 3 to 5% on income tax? I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, but it would meet stiff opposition, quite likely from many of the free uni advocates!

  • rate this

    Comment number 689.

    681 I didn't go to Uni until aged 26 so I could fund my own way through it & not have to take money from my parents they could ill afford. The added extra of 27k in tuition fees alone would have seriously put me off doing a medical degree. As a quarter of students these days are over 21, many will have the same issue I feel, with 9k a year fees.

  • rate this

    Comment number 688.

    682 - Most/all English degrees are Honours degrees and last 3 years. The initial 4th year at a Scottish university bridges the gap between Highers/Advanced Highers as these are not considered as tough as A-Levels. That said, the extra year allows Scottish degrees to have more breadth, but in terms of difficulty of study and the level you reach, English and Scottish degrees do not differ.

  • rate this

    Comment number 687.

    675 Marie, why you keep trotting out this "saddled with debt" line? If you are low paid you pay nothing. If you earn enough to start repaying, by no definition are you poor. If you lose your job or choose to travel, or have kids or whatever, you pay nothing back and it doesn't affect your credit score nor will you ever end up in County Court or have your house taken off you. What is the problem?

  • rate this

    Comment number 686.

    I seriously think the biggest reason for the drop in student numbers is due to a rising number of students realizing that degrees nowadays are not worth the paper they are printed on, - fancy a degree in Klingon, highly useful in todays modern business world - university of Liverpool, or how about hospitality, forget about the top training institution - Shatec who have taught it as vocational

  • rate this

    Comment number 685.

    10% are mentally deficient and put money above their education. What is new in that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 684.

    Testing 1,2...

  • rate this

    Comment number 683.

    @ 665.Shaun_Walker

    Best comment that's been posted on an article about fees since the changes were announced. Let's hope it prompts some of these people to actually do a bit of research!

  • rate this

    Comment number 682.

    I graduated a few years ago from the University of Aberdeen. It cost English students £1,800 a year. In England its £3,000. So for £9,000 you got a bog standard degree from English Universities. In Scotland it was £7,800 for an honours degree ie a better degree. England, when are you going to realise you are being taken for mugs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 681.

    your generation - who benefitted from free education."

    Not necessarily free - grants were means tested. A lot of parents, particularly middle class, had to stump up some proportion, up to 100%.

  • rate this

    Comment number 680.

    University tuition must be free to make it equally available to all youngsters regardless of their background and their parents' income.

    Hand-in-hand with this, we should reduce the number and size of universities, and stop pretending that any more than 10% of school-leavers want, need or would benefit from third-level education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 679.

    If you do a decent degree you'll get a decent job with decent pay. Maybe that's why applications to study chemical engineering are up by 12% despite the Tory tuition fees...

  • rate this

    Comment number 678.

    Thank goodness some astute youngsters are realising that a university degree is not the "be-all-and-end-all" and that a trade apprenticeship will give them a good headstart with practical work experience that can be immediately translated into the trade or job for which they have been apprenticed. What's more is that tradesmen will be the fastest movers in restoring economic growth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 677.

    This 'stops the poorest people from going to Uni' line has to stop right now because it's nonsense. I know people from the very poorest possible background (minus money) who can now go to uni (and are as we speak) because of the changes to the tuition fees and support for accommodation. In addition, they won't have to pay anything back until they earn over £21k which is a fortune to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 676.

    What a non-story! When one reads into the statistics, even Liam Burn's reluctantly acknowleged that the introduction of fees has not detered school leavers from going to University. The fees are fair, as the people who will directly benifit the most from a degree will contribute their fair share once they can afford to do so. How stupid do the student rioters look now?


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