By Maximilian Clarke

Applicants for 2012 university courses have plummeted by 15.1% on last year’s levels, figures from university applications body, Ucas reveal.

A 12% increase in applicants from emerging markets outside of the EU has failed to reverse the decline, which has seen 23,427 fewer applications altogether.

However, despite widespread concerns that university was now priced out of reach of many students, both Ucas’ chief executive and David Willetts, Science and Universities Minister say the higher tuition fees are unlikely to be driving the change:

"Recent changes in HE funding mean that application patterns this year may be different to previous years and we are gearing up for a possible late surge close to the 15 January deadline where applicants have taken more time to research their applications,” said Mary Curnock, Ucas’ chief executive. “We expect some depression of demand due to a decline in the young population but it is much too early to predict any effects from changes in tuition fees."

Minister Willetts added: "It is too early in the applications cycle for data to reveal underlying trends - the main UCAS deadline is not until January.

"Going to university depends on ability not the ability to pay. Most new students will not pay upfront, there will be more financial support for those from poorer families and everyone will make lower loan repayments than they do now once they are in well paid jobs.

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