University total down as fees rise
The numbers of UK students applying to start degree courses this autumn has slumped by almost 9%, as tuition fees triple to up to £9,000, official figures show.
Just over 50,000 fewer applicants have applied for university compared with the same point last year - a drop of 8.9%, according to new Ucas statistics.
In England, the numbers applying slumped by 10%, a bigger fall than in Wales (2.9%), Scotland (2.1%) and Northern Ireland (4.5%).
Among 18-year-olds, the age when teenagers traditionally go to university, the numbers were down by 2.6%, while applications from 19-year-olds were down 12.1% and those from 25 to 29-year-olds were down 12.2%. There was a 10.5% drop in applications from 30 to 35-year-olds, while the numbers of people aged 40 and over was down 10.9%.
Students starting university this autumn will be the first to pay up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees, with many English universities planning to charge the maximum.
Universities minister David Willetts insisted that 2012 will still be a "competitive year" for students hoping to gain places.
But some union officials and university leaders raised concerns about the impact of the fee hike, with one warning that the drop in applications from mature students could be damaging. The latest figures, which give the numbers of people applying before the final June 30 deadline, come as a new Ucas report reveals the impact of the new fee regime.
Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: "This in-depth analysis of the 2012 applications data shows that, although there has been a reduction in application rates where tuition fees have increased, there has not been a disproportionate effect on more disadvantaged groups."
Professor Patrick McGhee, chairman of the university think-tank million+ and vice-chancellor of East London University, said that a university education is still one of the best ways to get a career and a job.
But he added: "The drop in applications from mature students is a real concern and will jeopardise the Government's growth and social mobility agenda if it becomes a long-term trend."