The number of British students applying to university has plummeted by 23,000 amid continuing concerns over a sharp hike in tuition fees.

University applications ‘drop by 23,000’ after fees hike

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor

Just weeks before the applications deadline for most courses, it
emerged that demand is down by almost eight per cent compared with the
same point a year earlier.

Among the oldest students, applications are down by more than 14 per cent.

Data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service also shows
a sharp drop in demand from candidates from mainland Europe who pay
the same fees as their British counterparts.

Today, Labour claimed that students were being put off by the threat
of huge debts.

But Ucas insisted that figures showed a “late surge” in applications
as many students take more time over decisions.

From this autumn, universities in England will charge up to
£9,000-a-year in tuition fees – almost three times the current
maximum. Institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can
charge the same amount, although devolved governments will provide
generous subsidies for their own students.

Most students are supposed to apply by mid-January, although some
courses with vacancies accept applications later in the year.

Figures published on Wednesday showed that the number of British
students applying by mid-December was down by 7.6 per cent – or 23,228
– to 283,680.

If the decline holds until the summer, it will result in an overall
drop of almost 45,000 compared with 2011.

Shabana Mahmood, the shadow higher education minister, said: “It is
unfair that many who have the ability to go to university are being
put off applying because of the high levels of debt that they will
face.

“We are seeing a drop of more than 14 per cent among applicants aged
25 and over, showing that the chaotic and unfair policy to treble
tuition fees is putting off those who are already in the workforce in
investing in their skills and developing their careers.”

But the dip in applications has levelled off compared with figures
published in November, when year-on-year demand from British students
was down by 15 per cent.

This suggests students are taking longer to consider their options
before committing to more expensive courses.

Mary Curnock Cook, Ucas chief executive, said: “Evidence of a late
surge as the 15 January deadline approaches is now emerging.
Applicants are taking longer to research their choices but the
applications flow has speeded up, as these statistics show.”

Figures also show that applications from European students are down by
almost 11 per cent to 14,422.

But demand from other foreign students – who traditionally pay higher
fees and are not subjected to the latest price hike – is up by 13 per
cent to 23,806.

It means the total number of people applying to university is down by
6.4 per cent to 321,908.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, which represents
vice-chancellors, said: “As expected, December saw a significant
increase in applications.

“This suggests that people have been thinking carefully about their
choices and are waiting longer to make their decisions. It is very
possible that the increase in applications will now continue right up
until the 15 January 2012 deadline.”