Mature student applications in England have fallen by more than 18,000 (a 14% decline) since the introduction of the new £9,000 fees regime, a new analysis of UCAS data by the Independent Commission on Fees shows today.
Overall full-time applicant numbers were 31,000 lower in 2013 than in 2010.
The numbers of English university applicants aged 20 or older, for full-time courses, has fallen from 134,000 to 116,000, a reduction of 18,500, or 13.8% since 2010. The fall has been greater among those aged 25 and over, where there has been a drop of 15.4% in applications.
Returning to university as a mature student has traditionally been an important route to social mobility for people from low and middle income backgrounds who missed out on university after they left school.
UCAS holds application data on those who apply to full-time study. Many older applicants mix work and part-time study and apply directly to universities. The Higher Education Funding Council for England reported last year that there had been a substantial 40% drop in the number of part time undergraduate students starting in 2012-13, compared to 2010-11. Figures for 2013-14 part-time applicants are not yet available.
This report finds encouraging signs that school leavers overall (18 and 19 year olds) are not being put off a university education, and that the proportion of this group applying to university seems to be remaining constant, although the growth in this measure has stalled and is below trend.
The Commission’s analysis shows that there were 12,450 fewer 18 and 19 year-old English applicants in 2013 than in 2010, a drop of 4%. Some of this change is demographic – there are fewer 18 and 19 year-olds in the population. However, the study concludes that, in England, 2,600 (or 1%) fewer of those aged 18 in 2012 applied to university in 2012 or 2013 than would have done so had the trend in applications from previous years continued.
Among mature students, there were significant increases in the number of those aged over 20 applying for full-time courses from Northern Ireland and Scotland, and there was little change in Wales between 2010 and 2013. The £9,000 fee maximum was only introduced in England.
Today’s report also confirms earlier evidence of a gender divide in university applications, with the decline in the overall number of male students being faster – at 7.6% – than the decline in female students, which was 6.4%. In 2013, 58% of applicants were female and 42% male, suggesting that women are a third more likely to apply to university than men.
The report shows that while there has been some growth in applicants from the least advantaged neighbourhoods to university generally, this growth has not been reflected in applications to the most selective universities.
Will Hutton, chair of the Independent Commission on Fees, said today:
“Today’s report gives us a clearer picture of what has happened to university applications after the turbulence surrounding the introduction of fees up to £9000 a year has started to settle down.
“It shows that the fees hike is having a serious and damaging impact on second chance students, those who didn’t go to university after school but have seen the prospect of mature studies as an opportunity to improve their education and career prospects some years later.
“Last year’s evidence from HEFCE showed a big fall-off in part-time students, despite new loans provided by the Government. Today’s report confirms this worrying downward trend among those applying for full-time courses.
“If we are truly concerned about widening participation, it is vital that universities and ministers look behind these figures and identify the extent to which the higher fees are acting as a deterrent for mature students. There is a real economic and social imperative to do so.”
For further information or to arrange an interview with Will Hutton, please contact Ellie Decamp on 0207 802 1660.
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The Independent Commission on Fees was set up in January and is committed to monitoring the impact of increased university fees in England between 2012 and 2014.
2. The five members of the panel are: Will Hutton (Chair), Principal of Hertford College, Oxford University, and Chair of the Big Innovation Centre; Tanith Dodge, HR director at Marks & Spencer; Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation; Stephen Machin, Professor of Economics at University College London and Research Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics; and Libby Purves, writer, radio broadcaster and Times chief theatre critic.
3. The Commission is producing a series of independent reports assessing the impact of the increase in fees on application and admissions trends in universities, considering in particular the effect on those from low and middle income backgrounds. The secretariat and analytical support is provided by the Sutton Trust.
4. The Commission is extremely grateful to the Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) for their cooperation in helping with the Commission’s work. This report builds on analysis undertaken by UCAS, and follows on from the Commission’s report on applications to higher education, published earlier in 2013. Our aim is to analyse the UCAS data, but the interpretation and analysis in this report is our own and independent of UCAS or any other organisation. UK application rates by country, sex, age and background (2013 cycle, January deadline) and Demand for full-time undergraduate higher education (2013 cycle, March deadline). UCAS’ reports and supporting data files can be found here .
5. HEFCE’s analysis of part-time students can be found here .
6. There are several reasons why we have come to different conclusions from UCAS on selective universities: the Sutton Trust 13 is a much smaller group of selective institutions than the UCAS sample; we are also looking at applicants aged up to 19, whereas UCAS looked at 18 year olds only.
The gap between working class boys and girls going to university widened in the first year of the new tuition fees regime, a new analysis of UCAS data by the Independent Commission on Fees shows today.
And while the fall in acceptances did not have any disproportionate impact on less privileged areas of England overall, young male acceptances from these areas declined over two years while young female acceptances increased.
Women are now a third more likely to enter higher education than men and the gender gap seems to have widened since 2010.
Among UK residents, 134,097 women aged 19 and under were accepted to English universities in 2012 compared with 110,630 young men. This represents a decline since 2010 of 2.6% for girls and 4.0% for boys, and a 5.9% decline for girls and a 7.5% decline for boys since 2011.
In the 40% of English neighbourhoods where university participation is lowest, there were 1700 fewer boys aged 19 and under who were accepted for places in 2012 than in 2011. These reductions will partly reflect population changes, but this represents a decline of 5.4% in the number of young men from these areas going to university this year. By contrast, the fall in the number of young women from these neighbourhoods going to university was smaller, at just 3.7%.
When compared with 2010, the number of young male acceptances fell by 1.4%, while young female acceptances increased by 0.9%. These figures reflect concerns expressed elsewhere about the educational under-performance of working-class boys, feeding a widening gap in participation between boys and girls.
In England, while the overall change in the gender gap in the two fifths of neighbourhoods where participation is highest was 1.6 percentage points between 2010 and 2012, the overall change in the gender gap in the two fifths of neighbourhoods where participation is lowest was greater, at 2.3 percentage points. Between 2009 and 2010, male and female acceptances rose.
Although the decline in overall male participation in the most advantaged neighbourhoods was even larger, 20,000 more boys go to university each year from the two top fifth neighbourhoods than from the two bottom fifth neighbourhoods.
Will Hutton, chair of the Independent Commission on Fees, said today:
“Today’s report shows that the first year of fees produced a worrying widening in the university gender gap. In working class areas, there has been a decline over two years in the number of boys accepted for university, while the number of girls accepted has risen.
“This is particularly worrying, because women are already a third more likely to go to university than men, and the danger is that the higher fees may be having a disproportionate impact on men, who are already under-represented at university.
“The Government, universities and schools should consider whether specific measures are necessary to address their concerns.”
Total acceptances to UK universities fell from 431,000 in 2011 to 407,391 in 2012 – a drop of 23,844 or by 5.5%, making UK acceptances the lowest since 2008. The numbers were also 4.1% down on 2010.
The new report also highlights a worrying widening in the participation gap at the UK’s 13 best universities, a group identified by the Sutton Trust on the basis of league table performance. The group includes Oxford and Cambridge.
Acceptances to the top 13 rose in 2012, in contrast with the decline elsewhere, but admissions from England’s lowest participation neighbourhoods to these 13 universities fell by 0.1% while it rose among those from all other neighbourhood groups. Acceptances in the most advantaged neighbourhoods rose by 4.7%.
Students from the richest fifth of neighbourhoods are ten times more likely than those from the poorest fifth of neighbourhoods to go to one of the top 13 universities.
Will Hutton added: “While it is good that acceptances to the leading universities overall were up, it is worrying that the gap in acceptances to the best universities between those from the richest and poorest neighbourhoods, where those from advantaged areas are already ten times more likely to get to the best universities, has widened yet further.”
Today’s report also confirms earlier evidence that mature students (aged 20 and over) suffered the biggest drop in acceptances, with 7.6% fewer acceptances in 2012 than in 2010, twice the 3.3% decline for younger students as a whole.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- The Independent Commission on Fees was set up in January and is committed to monitoring the impact of increased university fees in England between 2012 and 2014.
- The five members of the panel are: Will Hutton (Chair), Principal of Hertford College, Oxford University, and Chair of the Big Innovation Centre; Tanith Dodge, HR director at Marks & Spencer; Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation; Stephen Machin, Professor of Economics at University College London and Research Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics; and Libby Purves, writer, radio broadcaster and Times chief theatre critic.
- The Commission is producing a series of independent reports assessing the impact of the increase in fees on application and admissions trends in universities, considering in particular the effect on young people from low and middle income backgrounds. The secretariat and analytical support is provided by the Sutton Trust.
- The Commission is extremely grateful to the UCAS for their cooperation in helping with the Commission’s work.
- In January, UCAS application data for 2013 showed that, in England, 18 year old women are more likely to apply than men across all backgrounds but to a greater extent in disadvantaged areas (50 per cent more likely) than advantaged areas (20 per cent more likely). These figures are for the most disadvantaged and most advantaged fifth of neighbourhoods. See http://www.ucas.ac.uk/about_us/media_enquiries/media_releases/2013/2013janapprates.
 The 13 universities are Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, St Andrews, UCL, Warwick and York.
Total university applicant numbers in England have dropped by 8.8 % in the first year of higher fees. This is 37,000 down compared with the 2010-11 academic year, according to the first report from the Independent Commission on Fees. 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, finds the analysis. The drop in applicants in England can only be partly explained by falling numbers of young people in the UK population.
While the absolute decline in younger English applicants is much steeper for 19-year-olds than 18-year-olds, separate figures also suggest a fall in the expected application rate for 18-year-olds in 2012. Around one person in 20 who would have been expected to apply to university in 2012 if the recent trend of increasing application rates among 18-years-olds in England was maintained did not do so. This equates to approximately 15,000 ‘missing’ young applicants.
There does not appear to have been any disproportionate drop-off in applications from poorer or less advantaged communities, finds the report from 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.
Chair of the Commission, Will Hutton, said: “Although it is too early to draw any firm conclusions, this study provides initial evidence that increased fees have an impact on application behaviour. 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.”
In its first report, the Commission provides an independent analysis of applications data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). The second Commission report summarises a pupil survey undertaken by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) investigating attitudes and intentions among school pupils aged 15-18 considering university.
A key part of the analysis is to compare application numbers in 2010, before the new fees were announced, and 2012, when fees were introduced. The total number of applicants in England fell by 8.8% from 421,448 in 2010 to 384,170 in 2012, with a drop of 7.2% for 18- and 19-year-olds, from 298,155 in 2010 to 276,629 in 2012. In Scotland total applicants increased by 1% from 38,763 in 2010 to 39,761 in 2012; in Wales applicants increased by 0.3% from 20,805 in 2010 to 20,876 in 2012; meanwhile in Northern Ireland applicants decreased by 0.8% from 18,435 in 2010 to 18,292 in 2012.
Total applicant numbers were also down when compared to the 2011-12 academic year, by a slightly higher percentage, but this is not considered to be a good reference point since applicants for this year would have been aware of the impending increase in fees.
Meanwhile, the application rate of 18-year-olds from England fell by around one percentage point in 2012 against a recent trend of annual increases of a similar amount. This suggests that around one young applicant in 20 who might have been expected to apply in 2012 did not do so – approximately 15,000 applicants. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales however, the young application rates for study in their own countries have broadly continued their recent trends.
The NFER survey found that just under three quarters (74%) of 15-17-year-old school pupils (in years 10-12 in England) said they were very or fairly likely to apply to go to a university, while 77% of 18-year-olds (in year 13) said they had applied to go to a university in the UK. Nearly six in ten (59 %) of pupils said that the increase in tuition fees had influenced their decision whether to go to university in the UK.
The Independent Commission on Fees was set up in January to monitor the impact of increased university fees in England over the next three years.
The five members of the panel are: Will Hutton (Chair), Principal of Hertford College, Oxford University, and Chair of the Big Innovation Centre; Tanith Dodge, HR director at Marks & Spencer; Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation; Stephen Machin, Professor of Economics at University College London and Research Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics; and Libby Purves, writer, radio broadcaster and Times chief theatre critic;
The Commission is producing a series of independent reports assessing the impact of the increase in fees on application and admissions trends in universities, considering in particular the effect on young people from low and middle income backgrounds. The secretariat and analytical support is provided by the Sutton Trust.
The Commission is extremely grateful to the UCAS for their cooperation in helping with the Commission’s work.
For further information contact: Oliver Quick- 020 7802 1660 or Tim Devlin if you cannot reach him on 07939 544487.
Will Hutton is available for interview.
Click here for the Independent Commission on Fees Press Release
This year will be first time that English higher education institutions are able to charge students up to 9000 pounds a year for tuition fees, repaid through graduate contributions after university.
With this in mind, the Independent Commission on Fees will produce a series of reports assessing the impact of the increase in fees on application and admissions trends in universities. The Commission will consider in particular the effect on young people from low and middle income backgrounds.
The commission will produce three reports a year over a three year period, considering a number of key issues, including the admissions of non-privileged students to highly selective universities, and particular subjects.
Chaired by Will Hutton, the commission will include Sir Peter Lampl, Stephen Machin, Libby Purves and Tanith Dodge. The secretariat and analytical support will be provided by the Sutton Trust.