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What the university application figures actually tell us
01/02/2012 16:01:00

There's been quite a bit of coverage of the university application figures over the last couple of days.

The headline is that applications to English universities are down 10 per cent. As someone who voted to raise the cap on tuition fees because I felt that - with the changes we made to the repayment system - it was the least bad option, but who was concerned that despite the more progressive repayment system students from less well-off backgrounds might be put off from applying, this was an alarming headline.

So I contacted the Minister's office and I found that this headline figure is very misleading for two reasons.

First, the headline figure includes applications from 18 year-olds and mature students. The number of applications from mature students is down but given that the Government has made it much more attractive for mature students to study part-time (they previously didn't qualify for loans and had to pay tuition fees upfront), that's hardly surprising.

Second, if you just look at 18 year-olds there is still a decline but most of that is because there are some 9,000 fewer 18 year-olds this year than last year. If you look at the proportion of 18 year-olds who have applied to university this year compared to last year, numbers are down just 1 per cent - and even this slight fall is mostly in more affluent areas.

So, contrary to the headlines, it doesn't look like higher fees have deterred students from applying. You can read the independent analysis for yourself here.

Comment on this blog


Readers' Comments

On 02/02/2012 17:03:00 Hammy wrote:
The interpretation is disingenious in that it does not look at the reasons for this. More are going to uni despite the awful costs and debts that most will never be able to pay back because of dumbed down gradings, the fact that there are fewer job opportunities/apprenticeships and because any work out there which economic migrants gladly undertake (and can afford to by living in cramped multi-occupancy conditons, which enables them to send money home and even buy property at home, rather than spending the money in this country - something which the indigenous UK population can't do - they would do the same if they could) is generally menial and low-paid and only worthwhile if you then live with your parents until middle age.

Same thing has been happening in Greece for decades - many students study well into their 30s while living at home. Why else do you see so many people drinking coffee all day? We need affordable uni places for those that are gifted enough to go to uni and more work for those that want to work and progress from an earlier age (and I don't mean by being told to work in Poundland for a minimum wage - I mean real opportunities) by offering more (not less, as the Tories propose) vocational training for youngsters.

On 02/02/2012 17:15:00 Anthony Miller wrote:
First, the headline figure includes applications from 18 year-olds and mature students.

Erm ... why's that wrong? Presumably in previous years the same calculations have been done using the same input data. That is ...if they were counted before and counted now and there's still an overall decrease then the statistical decrease is real. The question is "are applications down?" not "are applications down from a particular sector of society?"

If 18 year olds and mature students aren't going surely that's just as much of a problem...

And how come there are 9,000 fewer 18 year-olds this year...?

What was John Major's government doing to cause a baby shortfall...?

On 02/02/2012 17:27:00 Margaret wrote:
I cannot agree with having to pay for education even if a student has years to pay it back. My daughter still owes for her university course at 40 - if it was now she would be paying until she was 75 (I believe that will be the retirement age) as it depends on the wage that you get once you receive a job - and today you have to be in banking to start with to get a wage beyond belief, unless you are on the tills (they get a small wage like a lot of us). Bankers could leave - it should not make a difference as we have a lot of University leavers that cannot get a job. Do not tell me they can not do the job!!

All education should be free, as Charles Dickens wanted, not just for the rich. If Scotland can have free education, so should we.

On 02/02/2012 18:34:00 Alan Reynolds wrote:
In order to be competitive with young people in China and India, I agree we need to raise skill levels among UK young people. I question however whether we need to raise the percentage of those with academic qualifications. Some increase in practical and service industry skill levels could be equally valuable. Chinese tourists are going to be very numerous as their wealth increases. Are our young people ready and equipped to serve them?
On 08/02/2012 10:24:00 Gavin Barwell wrote:

The Government has massively increased the number of apprenticeships, not cut them.


I explain in the post why it is not surprising that full-time applications from mature students are down. The proportion of 18 year-olds applying is only down very slightly and mainly among students from affluent areas so the spin that was put on the headline figures - that higher tuition fees have put young people off going to uni - is not true.


If a loan hasn't been paid off after 30 years it is written off, one of the many reasons why these debts are not the same as commercial debts. 30 years is still a long time I grant you...

Of course we *can* have free higher education like Scotland but that means asking people who don't go to university who generally earn less to pay more in tax to benefit those who are generally going to earn higher salaries. Personally I don't think that's fair. Universal education should be free but when it comes to higher education, where only some people attend, I think it is right for the Government to provide some subsidy (the country as a whole benefits after all) and for individal students to pick up some of the cost (but not upfront, only once they start earning over a certain threshold).




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