Sharp drop in Welsh students applying for university
There has been a sharp drop in the number of students from Wales applying to universities in 2013.
The overall number is down 11.7% - that is nearly double the drop in England which stands at 6.5% over 2012.
The figures also showed a 3.9% drop in Scotland whereas in Northern Ireland there was a rise of 0.5%.
The statistics were published by university admissions body Ucas. The general deadline for applying to start university in autumn is 15 January.
However, students can still apply later.
An Ucas spokesman said the December sampling point was a few days before the end of term for many schools and suggested that many applications would have come in after that.
He pointed out that in previous years up to 40% of applications have come in during the final month before the deadline.
Dr Philip Dixon, director of the education union Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) Cymru, said he was "surprised" by how big the drop in Welsh applications was, but he said it could be due to a "variety" of reasons.
He said some people could not afford to go to university in the current economic climate.
"But I also think youngsters are pretty savvy and they know the market and a lot of them are looking and thinking I could go to university for three years, come out with £40,000 of debt and won't be guaranteed a good, high paid job anyway," he said.
"They see their brothers and sisters and neighbours go to university and coming out and working in Tesco - not becoming lawyers or doctors.
"They can only get the sort of jobs they would get if they hadn't gone away.
"So I think some of them think they might as well try their hand in the job market now."
Stephanie Lloyds, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) Wales, said the figures looked worrying "at face value".
"But we need to be careful not to jump to conclusions," she said.
"A huge number of applications come in the final month, which is just days away from ending for most courses on 15 January. This downward trend could easily reverse.
"Our seemingly huge drop in Wales equates to about 1,500 fewer applicants, whilst England has nearly 16,000 fewer applicants."
The Welsh government spokesperson said that the "early data" would soon be out of date and that 40% of applications often come in the final month.
"The decision to go on to higher education is one that only individuals can make," a spokesperson said.
"Some young people may choose to find employment or pursue vocational training.
"Whatever their choice, we strongly believe prospective students from Wales should not be deterred from applying to attend any university in the UK due to a lack of funding or support.
"That's why we are providing what we believe is the most equitable student finance system we have ever had, offering financial support wherever students choose to study."
Universities in the UK can now charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees.
The Welsh government helps pay any increase in fees for students in Wales, wherever they decide to study in the UK.
It means students pay about £3,500 with the Welsh government paying the rest of the fee through a grant.