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?