Decline in university applications confirmed



30 Jan 2012

After much speculation and confusion over the past 5 months, the scale of the fall in university applications caused by the rise in tuition fees is now much clearer with publication by UCAS of the figures up to the January 15th deadline*.

These show that the number of undergraduate applications from students living in England (where fee limits have been tripled for 2012-13) has fallen by 9.9% compared to this time last year.

By contrast, applications from students living in other parts of the UK have fallen by less, with Scotland down by 1.5%, Northern Ireland by 4% and Wales down by 1.9%.

The fall is much less that had been anticipated earlier in the application cycle when they appeared to be down by up to 30%. However, the fall remains substantial, particularly amongst those applying to  English universities and the new fees regime appears to be a large (but not sole) part of the explanation.

English universities lose out

A closer look at the figures shows that it is English universities that have taken the heaviest fall in applications: English students applying to English universities are down by 9.8% but there are even bigger falls in applications from Scotland, Northern Ireland and the rest of the EU. For example, the number of Scots applying to English universities is down by over 16%, with a similar fall from elsewhere in the EU.

Applications from Scottish students to Scottish universities held up well, with a fall of only 1.1%.

While the higher level of fees in England are a major factor, another factor is the demographic decline in the number of 18 year olds in the UK, which fell by 3.6% compared to last year.

Middle-class squeeze?

Analysis of the figures by UCAS suggests that the fall in applications has been slightly greater amongst students from better-off homes than amongst those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This may be explained by the higher availability of bursaries and scholarships for poorer students as part of the new tuition fees regime.

Overseas applications up

The only good news for English universities is that they are making up some of the shortfall by boosting their applications received from students living outside the EU, where applications are up by almost 14%. This means the overall decline in applications to English Universities is 8.5%.

The biggest increases in applications were from Hong Kong (up 37%), Australasia, (up 20%) Malaysia (up 14%) and the Middle East (up 13%).

Mature students turned off

While applications from 18 year-old school leavers are down  by just 2.6% overall, there are much heavier falls in applications from older students (aged 21 and above) with some now calculating that a degree is financially less viable as part of a career change. Applications from those aged 25 to 29 were down by almost 12%.

* This is the deadline for universities to give 'equal consideration' to all applicants. However, students can continue to apply right up until the start of term in Autumn 2012.

User Comments

Chris Yapp - 30 Jan 2012

Demographics

Mike,
Clear analysis. I suspect that another factor in mature students is the higher number who have taken degrees in the past decade.If you look at size of cohort 21-35 say who don't have a degree, I think that may also have peaked. I remember the analysis about 5 years ago, but haven't seen it since

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