UK university applications down 8.7 per cent as fees rise

Applications in England, where fees will hit £9,000 per year, are down nearly 10 per cent.

When tuition fee increases were anounced last winter, angry students stormed Millbank. Now, in the first year after they were introduced, the impact can be seen: figures from the admissions service Ucas show that university applications have dropped by 8.7 per cent.

The figure is substantially higher -- 9.9 per cent -- in England, where the maximum fee more than doubled from £3500, to £9000 per year. Scotland and Wales, where the higher fees were not introduced, saw much smaller decreases in applications -- a 1.5 per cent drop in Scotland and 1.9 per cent in Wales. Applications from students from other European Union countries, who would pay the higher fees, also decreased sharply, by 11.2 per cent.

Interestingly, it appears disadvantaged students have not been disproportionately put off. Ucas Chief Executive Mary Curnock Cook said:

Our analysis shows that decreases in demand are slightly larger in more advantaged groups than in the disadvantaged groups. Widely expressed concerns about recent changes in HE funding arrangements having a disproportionate effect on more disadvantaged groups are not borne out by these data.

Following a trend of annual increases since 2006, the drop in applications is clearly a reaction to the huge increase in fees. Several reasons have been offered to expand on explanations of the sudden drop. Firstly, it's likely that there was a glut of applications in 2010, as people tried to get into university before the fee rise. Secondly, the number of 18 year olds in the UK is projected to decline over the rest of the decade by 11 per cent. Thirdly, some analysts have suggested that students mistakenly believe they'll have to pay the fees upfront, when in fact they can take a loan which is repaid when they are earning more than £21,000.

This last is the least convincing: it's quite possible that students are unclear of the details, given the rushed nature of the reform. But even if they are fully aware that they can take a loan, the prospect of starting life with debts of £53,000 is more than enough to put people off.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.