22 January 2013

University Applications Drop For Second Year With Fee Increase

As expected, the government increase in tuition fees has caused a significant fall in the number of applications that the University and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) received this year.

Initial reports cite applications are down 6.3% on 2012, which itself was down 6.6% as the first wave of higher fees came in.

UCAS Logo

Some had anticipated a last minute rush at the deadline, which passed on the 15th of January, would boost the figures. However it’s now apparent that many of the UK’s universities have seen large drops in the number of applications.

Too expensive

Increasing tuition fees has left many prospective students unwilling to apply for higher education because they do not want to take on a lifetime’s worth of debt for a degree, with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. The government increased tuition fees to up to £9,000 per year in 2012 and show no sign of reversing the decision, despite the adverse affect this has inevitably has on UK students.

Local economies are also expected to suffer from the drop in university applications. Many large towns and cities rely on their student populations to support the area and a fall in the number of students at some universities could have serious, wider implications.

System change

A change in the UCAS system meant that not all universities had a fall in applications. The previous year, there was no limit on the number of AAB students that an institution could offer places to. This year, it was dropped down to ABB students, with the intention of more students getting their first choice. The ABB rule could also apply to other grade combinations, sometimes with a large grade difference like A*A*E, AAC or A*A* and a C at AS level.

Some of the institutions that had the biggest rises were University College London which saw a 22% increase and Cardiff University with a 13% increase. However the institutions which lost applications fell a lot further: London Metropolitan University applications fell by a massive 43%, mainly due to the university losing its license to sponsor international students. Russell Group members were also hit: the University of Liverpool saw a fall of 10% and the University of Sheffield a fall of 9%.

What for the future?

These wild swings show the large and unpredictable effect that the government’s changes to tuition fees have caused, and some are calling for a response from the coalition to show greater support for higher education.

Pam Tatlow, the Chief Executive of the university think-tank Million+, has said:

The Government needs to step in now to back a high profile public campaign to promote the value of higher education and point out the benefits and the support available to those who want to study, including those who choose to take a degree later in life as well as the opportunities to study part-time.

With dwindling support from the government towards our universities and no prospect of a reduction in the cost of higher education, the number of students applying to university in the UK could continue to fall year-on-year.

And at a what cost to the economy? In the Million+ report ‘What’s the value of a UK degree?‘ it was estimated that the downturn in the number of students could cost the government £6.6bn.

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