The number of UK students applying for university has fallen by almost 9% compared to 2011, making it the steepest fall for 30 years.
David Willetts, the Universities minister, stated yesterday that the introduction of higher fees has discouraged significant numbers of students from applying.
The provisional figures published by UCAS in November showed that the number of students who applied for places at UK universities was 158,387, down 23,427 compared to the same point a year earlier.
Overall, applications are expected to be down by between 7-8%, when overseas students are included.
2011 saw the final year for which tuition fees were £3000. This year tuition fees have moved up the scale to around the £9000 mark.
Most universities and colleges are expected to try to charge up to or close to the new limit next year. But some experts predict fees will fall for 2013 as demand drops off, particularly for less prestigious courses.
Sarah Spencer, academic director of the distance learning centre Oxford College, commented:
“Even taking into account last year’s surge in demand for university places, this is a sudden, and severe, drop in applications. It’s not a pretty picture. With many universities now charging £9000 a year for tuition, the cost is clearly scaring off many would-be students.
“It’s years since getting a degree was any sort of guarantee of getting a good job. Now university fees are so high that a three-year degree course is increasingly looking like an expensive gamble. Among our students, we have seen a steep increase in interest in vocational courses like BTEC Higher National Diplomas. Many calculate that these sort of applied courses will give them faster and more cost-effective access to the relevant skills that will improve their job prospects.
“As even the ivory towers of academia are buffeted by the chill economic winds, students’ fears about cost and the anaemic jobs market are combining to change the shape of higher education.”