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The truth about uni applications – students still want places

Students in a lecture

UCAS has announced today that total applications for full-time undergraduate university places for UK students has dropped by 8.7%. But is this decline in applications really as extreme as it first seems?

On the face of it the UCAS statistics show that there has been a notable drop in students applying to university. And this year has seen tuition fees rise – in some cases by almost 167% – so the two must be connected, right?

Not necessarily. The figures released today actually show that applications from UK 18-year-olds has declined by just 3.6% compared with 2011, accounting for just 8,500 people. Then consider that the number of 18-year-olds in the UK has declined by 11,000 this year and the true fall in numbers is only 1.4%.

UCAS Chief Executive Mary Curnock Cook said:

‘The more detailed analysis of application rates for young people takes account of population changes. This shows a fall of just one percentage point in the application rate in England, with little change across the rest of the UK.’

Are tuition fees really deterring students?

While the headlines may scream of 9% drops, the reality is quite different. To me, the results published today really beg the question: why aren’t school leavers being put off by the increase in tuition fees?

Which? is developing a new service for students considering Higher Education. The research we’ve conducted supports the statistics that school leavers seem to be undeterred by the increase in fees.

We asked a range of 16-19 year olds ‘has the increase in fees impacted your decision to go to university?’ All the students we spoke to said that they were aware of the fees but that it hadn’t put them off going to university. They told us they were going to get into debt at university anyway.

Demand still outstrips supply

According to the teachers we spoke to there is now an increased focus on employment outcomes at the end of a degree. ‘Students come to me asking what degree will get me the best job,’ said one teacher.

And the feeling among the students was that they would be in a better position with a degree for a good job than they would be without one, as these students explained:

‘I really wanted to do something vocational because it will give me a job at the end of it.’

‘If you don’t do a degree you don’t get that far in life.’

The fact is, demand for university places is continuing to outstrip supply, with UCAS admitting that there are already 50,000 more applications this year than there were acceptances at universities in 2011.

This, compounded with the government removing funding for 10,000 places, is set to leave thousands of students disappointed; unable to gain a place through clearing in September and without a job.

Is enough being done to ensure students are making the right decisions when applying for university? And if university doesn’t work out is there enough support to help them navigate the options available to them?


With the current rates of youth unemployment it’s no surprise that many school leavers aren’t in a rush to try their luck in the job market. Unfortunately, even after three years of study, many still won’t be able to secure a job easily. I think we need to radically re-think how we enable young people with and without degrees to find their path into a meaningful career, so that they can contribute to the country’s economic growth sooner rather than later. Making meaningful career advice a core part of our education system is one way we could give all young people a better chance of realising their full potential. So it’s a real shame that the government has scrapped all ring-fenced funding for it in schools.

Welcome Hollie.

It is time to question whether school/college leavers should go straight to university. Often, those who work for a year or two are often far more mature and motivated, have a better idea of what they want to achieve and how best to use their time at university. If they have managed to save some money before going into higher education, this can reduce the debt they graduate with.

I feel that funds for universities could be better used by better funding a smaller number of places, and giving these to applicants who can demonstrate motivation and a reasonable ability. Far too many are dropping out of university courses. Some courses have so many students that there is little opportunity for lecturers to get to know their students and be able to deliver the individual support that they need and deserve.

As far as I’m concerned – ANY decrease in Student Numbers is wrong. We need our young ones to be as well educated as possible and as many as possible to degree standard for the future of the country.. Labour proved that the reason for the tiny numbers of graduates during the last Tory Era was due to lack of opportunity to study not – as was often alleged by the Tories (as now) – lack of ability.

Education should be free of cost to the student – including any maintenance allowance.- as it used to be.

High quality education costs – and should not be restricted only to those that can pay.- The private sector should pay. £12,000 a year (with living costs) per year is too much to be faced by the poor and vulnerable – our Education System is now one of the the most expensive in the Western World…

When I was a student my tuition fees and maintenance allowance were paid by an electronics company – as I was one of a very small number to be chosen to be supported – this included “on the job” training. But it was emphasised that they expected some of us to move to other companies. Now companies simply poach trained personnel from other countries. They need to pay for indigenous students education.

Sophie Gilbert says:
31 January 2012

I am prepared to pay more tax to pay for tertiary education in the form of bursaries granted to British students who have passed exams to obtain these bursaries and (and bold underline) who otherwise couldn’t afford to pay for this education. Are you?

I agree providing they have the aptitude (I would agree with exams or other means of assessment to decide who deserves a bursary) and they can demonstrate motivation. Fund these students properly and not the ones who go are just there for a good time and care little about their education. Students who work hard still have a good time at university but sometimes it is not a very stimulating environment because of the wasters, particularly in the first year of degree courses.

I am entirely in favour of properly supporting those who can benefit form higher education, but that is definitely not 50% of school-leavers.

The new system is in effect a graduate tax, only repayable when earnings are over £21,000 pa.

I don’t like it – I think a University Education should be provided out of general taxation, but the revised arrangements although resulting in large levels of loan, do mean manageable repayments.

Scragglygoat says:
31 January 2012

I was astonished when as a student it was explained to me that University education was, at the time, free, with no compulsion to stay in the UK, pay taxes in the UK or repay any of the cost if I left. I was born overseas to UK parents, “immigrating” when I was 10 years old. I have come to value very highly the excellent education I received in the UK, but I certainly don’t regard it as my right to receive it – if the country has overspent so badly and can’t afford it then I understand – even really good things have to be paid for and if the money’s gone, it’s gone.

Mikhail says:
1 February 2012

I found a very interesting video about education (http://youtu.be/iG9CE55wbtY) it covers such subjects as ‘Inflation in education’ and creativity. I think that my degree in a business administration was a waste of time and money. The information we were given in the 1st and the 2nd year of the education has “expired” in the 3rd year. I’m sure that some degrees need more than 3 years to complete, but please let’s make the educational experience as short as possible. I’m all in favour 1+1 degrees, i.e., 1 year of studies + 1 year of practice. Universities have to create business partnerships, because in most of the cases employers are looking for an experience and references not piece of paper which only proves that you can memorise things.

Being able to memorise things is a low level skill, though it could be fairly important in the first year of a degree course. Look up ‘Blooms Taxonomy’ for a simple but useful explanation that synthesis and evaluation, etc are higher level cognitive skills than regurgitation of information.