Total university applicant numbers in England have dropped by 8.8 per cent in the first year of higher fees, according to the first report from the Independent Commission on Fees.
This is 37,000 down compared with the 2010-11 academic year. However the commission, established earlier in the year to monitor the impact of reforms which allow English higher education institutions to charge up to £9,000 per year in tuition fees, has found that the decline in student applicants in England for 2012-13 is not mirrored in other parts of the UK where fees have not been increased.
The commission has stated that the drop in applicants in England can only be partly explained by falling numbers of young people in the UK population, but there does not appear to have been any disproportionate drop-off in applications from poorer or less-advantaged communities.
“Although it is too early to draw any firm conclusions, this study provides initial evidence that increased fees have an impact on application behaviour,” says Will Hutton, chair of the commission.
“There is a clear drop in application numbers from English students when compared to their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. On a positive note we are pleased to see that, at this stage, there has been no relative drop-off in applicants from less-advantaged neighbourhoods. We will continue to monitor a range of indicators as the fee increases work their way through the system.”
“Whilst the rise in tuition fees has resulted in a fall in the number of UK university applications, the economic downturn has clearly played its part too," comments IET president Dr Mike Short. "Students are re-evaluating whether or not to start their university careers. Engineering has a central role to play in rebalancing the economy...(it) will require qualified, skilled engineers and technicians at all levels.
"A university education is not the only route. Given the tough economic situation apprenticeships are a viable alternative to a traditional academic pathway. They provide a valid route into a rewarding and enjoyable career in engineering, equipping young people with the key practical and technical skills that are valued by employers.
“International entries to university are also important for the future of engineering and related research as this diversity helps to build UK strengths for a more global world of engineering. We need to ensure UK universities stay competitive in attracting and retaining such students," he adds.