Universities face a record 15.1 per cent slump in UK applicants after the tripling of tuition fees, official statistics show. Rising numbers of British students are being deterred as charges of up to £9,000 a year are introduced next autumn. The UCAS statistics suggest a looming meltdown in higher education after years of unbridled expansion. Vice chancellors are likely to become reliant on lucrative overseas students who pay the full cost of courses – as much as £26,000 a year – to help boost their coffers.
The figures show that 133,357 home students have applied for 2012 degree courses at UK institutions so far, a drop of 23,759 compared with the same point last year. Applications from other EU students have fallen 13.1 per cent to 9,034. However, the number of applicants from outside the EU has risen by 11.8 per cent – from 14,306 to 15,996 – amid extensive overseas recruitment drives. There has been a 31.8 per cent rise in applications from Hong Kong alone – up to 2,248 – as British institutions target this market.
Overall applications – including British, other EU and non-EU students – to UK universities by November 21 have dropped by 12.9 per cent to 158,387. At the same point last year, overall applications for courses starting in autumn 2011 had soared by 11.7 per cent to 181,814. Students cancelled gap years in the rush to get places ahead of next year’s increase in fees.
Last night Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: ‘I think this is the highest drop outside of the two World Wars, when some universities almost became bankrupt due to falling applications. They were rescued by State support. ‘In the 1980s, when the number of 18-year-olds dropped by a third, the shortfall in applications was made good by mature students and part-time students.’ He added: ‘It will be the less popular universities that will struggle. ‘Students will be questioning whether they would be getting sufficient value from £9,000-a-year from those universities.’ The largest fall in applications (17.1 per cent) is among Scottish students, even though they get free tuition in Scotland. This is believed to be due to a fall in the birth rate, together with a 19.1 per cent fall in their applications to English universities. Applications are down among English students by 15.2 per cent, Welsh by 10.3 per cent and Northern Irish by 16.9 per cent. Areas of the UK with the largest falls in applications include the North East (-21.4 per cent) and the East Midlands (-20.1 per cent).
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the figures were worrying, adding: ‘Putting financial barriers in front of young people who have been told their entire lives to aim for university is nothing more than a policy of penalising ambition.’ UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: ‘We expect some depression of demand due to a decline in the young population, but it is much too early to predict any effects from changes in fees.’
Mr Willetts said: ‘Most new students will not pay up front and there will be more financial support for those from poorer families.’ Students have until January 15 to apply for 2012 courses. Research suggests they will face an average total bill of £48,503 for three years’ study at a Russell Group university, including the higher fees and living costs.
When higher fees were introduced, part of the reason was to embarrass those 'universities' that gave poor value for money. It is almost universally accepted that the expansion of Universities allowed some to provide very poor value with too many courses in 'Media Studies' and the like attracting students who would be better off in apprenticeships learning to be craftsmen or mechanics or secretaries. Tony Blair's "Education, education, education." warcry was misdirected.