Fee rises see number of university applications fall 10%: Experts say 'alarm bells should be ringing'
07:45 GMT, 29 November 2012
The number of students in England applying to university has slumped by almost 10 per cent amid the increase in tuition fees.
It follows a 15.2 per cent fall the previous year, with one expert declaring that 'alarm bells should be ringing in government'.
Almost 12,000 fewer students in England have applied to start a degree course next autumn than had applied by this time last year for 2012.
'Significant impact': National Union of Students president Liam Burns said the Government should admit its higher education policies are having an effect on student behaviour
That figure of 119,548 has fallen to 107,687 now – the lowest number at this stage of the application process for at least seven years.
It means there has been a 9.9 per cent fall comparing 2013 entry to 2012, according to the body which processes applications, UCAS.
The figures have renewed concern that the downward trend in university applications prompted by the tripling of tuition fees is becoming more entrenched.
Tuition fees were increased to up to 9,000 a year from this autumn. There was a peak in applications for 2011 entry in an attempt to beat the rise, with applications at this stage in 2010 soaring to 140,983.
A year later that had plunged by 15.2 per cent to 119,548, but vice chancellors had anticipated that demand for places would then recover. However, applications have now fallen again by a further 9.9 per cent to 107,687.
The UCAS figures show that, overall, applications from UK and overseas students have dropped by 8.4 per cent ahead of the main January deadline. Applications by Scottish students are down 10.5 per cent; Northern Ireland, down 9.3 per cent; Wales, down 8.7 per cent; and EU students, down 0.9 per cent.
The figures also show a 0.8 per cent fall in applications from students from outside the EU, from 15,996 at this point last year to 15,863.
This is the first drop in applications from these students who pay full fees and are financially very significant for UK universities.
It comes amid warnings over difficulties regarding student visas and the high profile case of London Metropolitan University being barred from recruiting overseas students.
Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said that although these are early figures, 'significant early drops' in applications in England were sustained throughout last year, unlike in Scotland and Wales.
'Regardless of the repayment terms and the small print, students were always going to be deterred by 9,000 tuition fees.'
NUS president Liam Burns
He said: 'The Government should now finally admit that its higher education policies are having a significant impact on application behaviour. Regardless of the repayment terms and the small print, students were always going to be deterred by 9,000 tuition fees.'
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, added: 'It is rather concerning that the number of people applying to university appears to be continuing to fall.
'Everyone expected a drop last year after people postponed gap years in 2011 to get into university before higher fees. There is still time for the figures to recover, but it is a serious worry.'
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the university think-tank, million+, said: 'It is very early in the applications cycle and many potential students take time to explore their options but alarm bells should be ringing in government.
'If these statistics prove to be indicative there would be another downturn in university applications in 2013.'
UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook insisted that changes at this point of the cycle are 'a poor guide to final demand'.
She said: 'For example, in the 2012 cycle the decrease in applicants in November was much greater than the final picture in January, possibly because applicants were making more considered decisions about their higher education choices after the tuition fee changes in 2012.'
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: 'It is important that no one is put off applying to university because they do not have information about the student support available to them.'
Earlier this month, England's Higher Education Funding Council revealed that university finances were under pressure after an 'unexpected fall' in admission rates. Some 57,000 fewer undergraduates started courses across the country this year.