Sally Hunt examines UCAS's latest round of figures for university applications, and asks what they mean for the future of British higher education
Sally Hunt is the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU)
Figures released today by the university admissions service UCAS show that university applications have fallen by nearly nine per cent on this time last year.
With fees rising to up to £9,000 per year, the impact has been biggest for England’s universities – down by 9.9 per cent, while in Scotland there was a fall of 1.5 per cent.
UCU has long warned that making England the most expensive country in the world in which to gain a public degree would deter people from applying to university and today’s figures lend weight to that argument.
While the overall figure for applications in England has plummeted by ten per cent the number is higher still among mature students, with over 13,000 (11 per cent) fewer applying to university.
This in itself is a very worrying development. Over one in four students who apply to university are mature students with many looking to get back in to education in order to improve their qualifications and chances of long-term employment.
The government should be making it easier for people in this situation to have a second chance but seem intent on making it harder.
While ministers have been quick to defend the new fees regime as fairer and more progressive it is neither and will simply penalise those with ambition.
Perhaps it is not surprising that our best and brightest are being tempted abroad to study. The University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, for example, is reporting a surge in applications from Brits.
Looking ahead, we cannot afford a system that puts people off university if we are to compete in the modern world. Other countries are encouraging their best and brightest to get on, not putting up punitive barriers. This government risks returning us to a time when money, not ability, mattered most for success.
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• Coalition should heed Obama’s advice on higher education – not slash teaching grants – Sally Hunt, January 25th 2012
• Will 2012 see the first university bankruptcy? – Alex Hern, January 8th 2012
• A small mercy for the marching students of tomorrow – Laura McInerney, November 9th 2011
• University applications down 9 per cent on 2011 – Sally Hunt, October 24th 2011
• Rich kids will pay less student debt than middle classes – Sally Hunt, September 20th 2011