The number of UK University applicants has dropped by 8.7% compared with last year, official figures show.
They also reveal a sharper drop among more affluent candidates than among those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The decision to let UK universities raise undergraduate fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year for resident students provoked widespread public anger and battered the credibility of the Liberal Democrats.
However, figures from the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) published on Monday show that the number of 18-year-old UK applicants – the largest single group of candidates – has decreased by 3.6%, representing a drop of just under 8,500 people. The number of 18-year-olds in the population has declined by 11,000 this year, to 772,000, according to the Office for National Statistics, a fall of 1.4%.
But total applicant numbers, including overseas and mature candidates, are 7.4% lower than at the same point in 2011, Ucas says. The number of applicants from the UK has decreased by 8.7%.
There has been a sharper drop among male applicants. The proportion of men is down 8.5% on last year, while female applicants are down 6.7%.
A 13.7% increase in overseas candidates from non-EU countries was also found, however this could change in the coming year due to changes to Tier 4 student visa rules and the abolition of PSW this April.
Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive of Ucas, said: “Our analysis shows that decreases in demand are slightly larger in more advantaged groups than in the disadvantaged groups. Widely expressed concerns about recent changes in HE [higher education] funding arrangements having a disproportionate effect on more disadvantaged groups are not borne out by these data.”
The application rate from the most disadvantaged fifth of the population is down 0.2% in England, Ucas said. Among the wealthiest quintile, it is down 2.5%. This analysis is based on a ranking of neighbourhoods according to the participation of young people in higher education.
Demand will continue to outstrip the supply of university places this year. There are already 50,000 more applications this year than there were acceptances at universities in 2011. Competition will be more intense as the number of government-funded places at English universities will drop by 10,000.
David Willetts, universities minister, said: “The proportion of English school leavers applying to university today is greater than ever before, barring last year. It is encouraging that applications from people from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds remain strong, with only a 0.2% decrease.
“Even with a small reduction in applications, this will still be a competitive year like any other as people continue to understand that university remains a good long-term investment in your future.”
Wendy Piatt, the director general of the Russell Group, which represents some of the most competitive universities, including Oxbridge, said: “Demand for higher education is not only strong – it’s actually rising over the long term. This year 540,073 prospective students have applied, which is 16% more than the 464,167 who applied just three years ago in 2009.
“More than half a million potential students have rightly recognised the benefits of going to university. Prospective students know a good degree remains a smart investment.
“It’s not surprising the number of applications is lower than last year, but there are a number of reasons for that. Demographic changes mean there are fewer 18-year-olds in 2012 than in 2011 and we also know there was a peak in applications last year as fewer people chose to take gap years.”
There are big falls in the number of mature students applying this year: nearly 2,400 fewer 30- to 39-year-olds, and more than 1,000 fewer students over the age of 40. Going back to study full-time is an expensive choice as the government does not provide fee or maintenance loans for second degrees. The proportion of the population that has never been to university is naturally dwindling.
The number of 19-year-olds applying is down 12.6%, from 137,531 to 120,151. Source: The Guardian.
The effects of fee hikes, albeit deferred, for UK students and the abolition of the Post Study Work Visa (PSW) will mean that lower ranked UK Universities will start to feel the cold wind of change.
Government owned colleges and universities have received a massive boost following the demise of the private sector. After 4 July Tier 4 Immigration Rule changes last year overseas students can only work and sponsor their dependants if they study at government owned institutions.
With student agents in Asia reporting that students are now more attracted to study in Australia, New Zealand, Canada or the US, UK Universities may have to do more to attract overseas non-EU students to fill places – or start closing campuses and making redundancies.
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