British Universities See Applications Drop Off Sharply After Cost Increase

As colleges begin to accept applications for enrollment in the fall 2012 semester, the Universities of Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) reports 8.7% fewer students have applied for higher education this year, compared to the amount of student applications submitted in 2011. They also reported that applications from European students dropped 11.2% – a figure that creates the assumption that potential college students fear the acquisition of college debt, especially when the cost continues to increase at high rates.

Deadline Has Already Passed

January 15th marked the deadline for application into most college courses. At that point in time, the total amount of applications was, 540,073, a 7.4% decrease from the year before. The majority of these students were British, a demographic that dropped 8.7% in the number of applying candidates, with 506,000 student applications in 2011 and only 462,507 in 2012.

England was slightly higher, with 9.9% fewer applications than in 2012, which could be a reflection on the fact that English students pay higher fees. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales even experienced fewer students applying to college, at 4%, 1.9% and 1.5%, respectively.

Questionable Reasons for Cost Hikes

While some people think the increase in fees that the government has imposed on college tuition is the main reason college candidates are not applying, others believe that these statistics are not as bad as they seem. General Secretary, Sally Hunt mentioned, “We cannot afford a system that puts people off university if we are to compete in the modern world. Other countries are encouraging their best and brightest to get on, not putting up punitive barriers. This Government risks returning us to a time when money, not ability, mattered most for success.”

Wavering Opinions

On the other hand, there is the Russell Group, a representative of top universities like Cambridge and Oxford, who takes the stance that the decline in college applicants is not as bad as they had predicted it would be. The Director General of Russell Group, Wendy Piatt, stated, “Despite all the hype, fee reforms are unlikely to cause a long-term decline in applications.” She further explained that although colleges experienced a drop in applicants the first year after tuition fees are raised, the number of applicants starts to increase each year thereafter.

Despite Piatt’s opinion, the University and College Union admonishes that the statistics are “very worrying”, siding with General Secretary Hunt. They also called the increase of tuition fees, to the tune of £9,000 per year, the “government’s folly”.

Martin Lewis, head of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information, agreed that the increasing fees make students think twice about applying to college, acknowledging that it is difficult to assess exactly how much the rising costs impact student applications. Lewis discussed about the “worst-case scenario”, which, in his mind, would be “wrongly panicked” students who are afraid “they can’t afford fees or scared of being saddled with huge unmanageable debt”.

Some Choose To Skip College

Then, he weighed out the “best-case scenario”, which he explains by saying, “this is a legitimate call from those who have investigated the cost, the value, and evaluated university is now not for them,” and then ends with his ultimate conclusion: “I suspect it’s a mix.”

Mary Curnock Cook, Chief Executive of Ucas relays her opinion and analysis of the statistics: “There has been a headline drop of 7.4 per cent in applicants, with a slightly larger fall in England.”

She goes on to say that a “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.” She continues to explain that their “analysis shows that decreases in demand are slightly larger in more advantaged groups than in the disadvantaged groups.”

What was her final analysis?

“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.”