Dramatic fall in university applications

By Ruth McKee

The number of young people applying for places at university has fallen by almost 12% ahead of next September, when tuition fees will rise to £9,000, official figures show.

The University and College admission service (Ucas) published figures today which reveal a drop of over 7,000 in university applications from 52,321 to 59,413 for the same period last year.

The figures only show applications up to October 15th, which is the deadline for Oxford and Cambridge Universities as well as degrees such as medicine, vetinary medicine and dentistry.

Due to the trend towards early submissions it is thought applications will be down across the sector, however

The figures confirm what many universities feared about the decision to almost treble tuition fees to £9,000 – that the higher fees would deter many from applying for a place at a university and saddle themselves with more than £18,000 worth of debt.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, the trade union for lecturers said it confirmed that the decision to raise tuition fees had been a mistake.

"It is clearly having a serious impact on the choices young people make," she said.

"People should study the right course for them, not just the cheapest one or none at all. These depressing figures take us back to the time when it was cost, not ability, that determined your future."

But others have warned that at this stage it is too early to read into the figures.

"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," Universities UK chief executive Nicola Dandridge said.

The initial figures seem to show a drop in the number of women applying for university places and the numbers of mature students applying has fallen steeply also. The proportion of applicants aged 40 or older has fallen by 27.8%, while those aged between 30 and 39 has dropped by 22.7%.