By Maximilian Clarke

The UK has seen a 7.4% drop in university applications as students are apparently being deterred by a hike in fees.

Applications in Scotland saw a more marginal decline of 1%, due in part to the Scottish government’s decision to absord the fee hikes. Conversely, English students, who will ultimately have to absorb the £9000 a year fees themselves, have declined by 9% on 2010 figures, the University and Colleges Administration Services’ (UCAS) figures have shown.

"There has been a headline drop of 7.4% in applicants with a slightly larger fall in England,” commented UCAS Chief Executive Mary Curnock Cook.

"The 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.

"Our analysis shows that decreases in demand are slightly larger in more advantaged groups than in the disadvantaged groups. 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.

"However, I remain concerned about the wide and increasing gap between the application rate of men compared to women.

"Although applications are down for mature applicants, this is in the context of some very substantial increases in recent cycles. Applications from mature groups are also set against a backdrop of increasingly higher HE participation rates at their school leaving age.

"The indications are that demand for HE will continue to outstrip the number of places available in 2012. Applications are already 50,000 ahead of the number of acceptances in 2011 and last year UCAS received over 100,000 further applications between January and the close of the cycle."

For the first time UCAS also reports on application rates (see bullet 1) for young people applying to higher education in 2012, as well as rates of application in terms of advantage and disadvantage. Reporting application rates gives a clearer picture of demand because it accounts for annual changes in the population.

“The proportion of English school leavers applying to university today is greater than ever before, barring last year. It is encouraging that applications from people from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds remain strong, with only a 0.2 per cent decrease," Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said.

“Even with a small reduction in applications, this will still be a competitive year like any other as people continue to understand that University remains a good long-term investment in your future. And it is still not too late to apply, last year over 100,000 students applied after the January deadline.

“It is important that people have the information they need to make life-changing decisions about their future. Our very successful student finance tour also reached more than 145,000 students and parents to make sure they had the facts about our new student finance system. We have also asked universities to ensure that transparent, comparable information is available for prospective students.“

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