Decline in student applicants follows fee increases

Published on Thursday, 09 August 2012 10:03
Posted by Scott Buckler

Total university applicant numbers in England have dropped by 8.8 % in the first year of higher fees. This is 37,000 down compared with the 2010-11 academic year, according to the first report from the Independent Commission on Fees

The decline in student applicants in England for 2012-13 is not mirrored in other parts of the UK where fees have not been increased, finds the analysis. The drop in applicants in England can only be partly explained by falling numbers of young people in the UK population.

While the absolute decline in younger English applicants is much steeper for 19-year-olds than 18-year-olds, separate figures also suggest a fall in the expected application rate for 18-year-olds in 2012. Around one person in 20 who would have been expected to apply to university in 2012 if the recent trend of increasing application rates among 18-years-olds in England was maintained did not do so. This equates to approximately 15,000 'missing' young applicants.

There does not appear to have been any disproportionate drop-off in applications from poorer or less advantaged communities, finds the report from the Commission, established earlier in the year to monitor the impact of reforms which allow English higher education institutions to charge up to £9,000 per year in tuition fees.

Chair of the Commission, Will Hutton, said: "Although it is too early to draw any firm conclusions, this study provides initial evidence that increased fees have an impact on application behaviour. There is a clear drop in application numbers from English students when compared to their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. On a positive note we are pleased to see that, at this stage, there has been no relative drop-off in applicants from less advantaged neighbourhoods. We will continue to monitor a range of indicators as the fee increases work their way through the system."

In its first report, the Commission provides an independent analysis of applications data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). The second Commission report summarises a pupil survey undertaken by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) investigating attitudes and intentions among school pupils aged 15-18 considering university.

A key part of the analysis is to compare application numbers in 2010, before the new fees were announced, and 2012, when fees were introduced. The total number of applicants in England fell by 8.8% from 421,448 in 2010 to 384,170 in 2012, with a drop of 7.2% for 18- and 19-year-olds, from 298,155 in 2010 to 276,629 in 2012. In Scotland total applicants increased by 1% from 38,763 in 2010 to 39,761 in 2012; in Wales applicants increased by 0.3% from 20,805 in 2010 to 20,876 in 2012; meanwhile in Northern Ireland applicants decreased by 0.8% from 18,435 in 2010 to 18,292 in 2012.

Total applicant numbers were also down when compared to the 2011-12 academic year, by a slightly higher percentage, but this is not considered to be a good reference point since applicants for this year would have been aware of the impending increase in fees.

Meanwhile, the application rate of 18-year-olds from England fell by around one percentage point in 2012 against a recent trend of annual increases of a similar amount. This suggests that around one young applicant in 20 who might have been expected to apply in 2012 did not do so – approximately 15,000 applicants. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales however, the young application rates for study in their own countries have broadly continued their recent trends.

The NFER survey found that just under three quarters (74%) of 15-17-year-old school pupils (in years 10-12 in England) said they were very or fairly likely to apply to go to a university, while 77% of 18-year-olds (in year 13) said they had applied to go to a university in the UK. Nearly six in ten (59 %) of pupils said that the increase in tuition fees had influenced their decision whether to go to university in the UK.

Source: ©The Sutton Trust

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