Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students

The government has got it totally wrong on higher education funding - it’s time for Labour to propose an alternative.

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By Rory Weal

Figures released yesterday show that university applications from UK students for courses starting this autumn have fallen by 8.9 per cent. The drop coincides with the increase in tuition fees, to £9,000 a year, which the current cohort will be the first to experience.

StudentThese figures stand in stark contrast to the government line when tuition fees were increased in November 2010, when education secretary Michael Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

I believe that [higher fees] won’t put off students. They will make a rational decision on the benefits that accrue to them [from going to university].”

Yesterday’s figures have disproved Gove’s assertion that the prospect of having over £27,000 worth of debt will not deter students from applying.

These statistics show that the prospect of carrying such an extraordinary debt before even leaving university is making many young people, who would have previously considered going to university, reconsider.

What is equally notable is the differentiation in applications from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In England, tuition fees are at £9,000 a year, whereas in Wales and Northern Ireland fees stand at £3,465, and there are no fees for Scottish students applying to university.

Application figures clearly show that the slump is far more dramatic in England, with Scotland experience a far less significant fall. England has seen by far the most substantial reduction, down 10% compared with the same point last year. The other declines are of 2% in Scotland, 3% in Wales and 5% in Northern Ireland.


See also:

Putting an individual through university generates £227k for the economy 9 Jun 2012

A small mercy for the marching students of tomorrow 9 Nov 2011

Coalition continues being wrong, wrong, wrong on its own tuition fees policy 7 Nov 2011


This clearly shows a strong link between increasing fees and declining applications. The government’s previous attempts to claim that the fee rise will not deter students has been shown to be totally incorrect.

Sally Hunt, leader of the UCU lecturers’ union, attacked the government for their pivotal role in seeing universities become inaccessible to many young people, saying:

“These figures once again highlight the folly of hiking up tuition fees to £9,000 and making England one of the most expensive countries in the world in which to access higher education.”

She went on to criticise the double standards of the Tory-led government, which gives lip-service to social mobility but in reality is making the situation far worse, saying:

“This government can talk all it likes about improving social mobility but how will erecting punitive financial barriers help our best and brightest get on?”

These figures are evidence of a government that is blocking the ability for young people to get on in life. The increase in tuition fees is just one element of a wider mix of measures which are ending any pretence that young people can still do well regardless of their background.

The scrapping of EMA has made education unaffordable for many young people while the slashing of youth centres has taken away an essential resource from kids from deprived areas. Now we see that increasing the cost of education has meant that many young people are simply not applying to stay on into higher education.

In light of these figures, Labour needs to be pushing for a radical overhaul of the regressive and unfair tuition fee system with a new mechanism, which Ed Miliband supported in his leadership campaign: a graduate tax.

Such a tax would get rid of the deterrent caused by the threat of taking on masses of debt and encourage young people to apply for university, not least those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The government has got it totally wrong on higher education funding. It’s time for Labour to propose an alternative.


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40 Responses to “Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students”

  1. Karma Pad

    Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students, writes @RoryWeal: http://t.co/PacI8r5E

  2. Trakgalvis

    RT @leftfootfwd: Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students, writes @RoryWeal: http://t.co/KBM1z3jv

  3. Emma

    RT @leftfootfwd: Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students, writes @RoryWeal: http://t.co/KBM1z3jv

  4. willy bach

    RT @leftfootfwd: Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students, writes @RoryWeal: http://t.co/KBM1z3jv

  5. ffhfhffh

    Alternative headline: “University applications second highest year on record, higher than every year under Labour”.

    It’s really sad to see that scaremongering by Labour has managed to deter poorer students. Recent IFS figures suggest that the poorest 30% will actually be better off under the new system – it’s only the wealthier graduates who will be paying significantly more.

    Somehow Labour has managed to propagate the myth that poor people cannot afford university, and for that they should be thoroughly ashamed.

  6. Will Slater

    What a load of rubbish. I can tell you now, I asked my cousin if she was going to Uni, she isn’t political, she doesn’t care about that.

    Me: Will you still be going to Uni?
    Cousin: No, when you went it was £3000 or whatever, I don’t like the look of £9000 a year on my head with interest.

    Also I would like to add, no one tells Sixth Form and College students they will have interest charged on top of their debt… Good luck paying for a mortgage and a car kids!

    Poor people cannot afford Uni. Simple fact. I am from Oldham, North West England. Now Uni is a waste of time like anything else… No hope at all for anyone under 25

  7. Leon Duveen

    It’s not the Tuition Fees themselves that have caused the problem, as all those who have looked at it carefully agree that the actual cost of the loans under the new system will be LESS to most students, certainly fairer, than the old system.
    No the problem is the constant harping on about the up front cost (which is not paid by the student but by the state) by the press, the Labour Party and groups like Left Foot Forward.

  8. Selohesra

    Perhaps if Miliband and co had acted a bit more responsibly and pointed out that you would only repay the loan if you got decent job and earned over certain thresholds – ie pretty similar to a graduate tax then more would actually understand how loans worked. Milibands blatent oportunism and scaremongering must play some part if student numbers drop off

  9. marc

    RT @leftfootfwd: Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students, writes @RoryWeal: http://t.co/KBM1z3jv

  10. Alex Braithwaite

    RT @leftfootfwd: Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students http://t.co/L03k6iN3

  11. Liza Harding

    RT @leftfootfwd: Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students http://t.co/L03k6iN3

  12. Anonymous

    Responsible? The RESPONSIBLE thing to do is to point out that doing a degree, outside medicine or a job in the city will *cost* you cash over your working lifetime. You’re looking to raid everyone else’s pockets again.

    That’s how it works.

  13. Anonymous

    Labour hasn’t, economics have. You expect people to be stupid enough to reduce their working life income. Of course that’s unaffordable when you can be working and helping your family three years earlier for poorer people!

    Essentially, you’re saying the thick are right for University. Er….

  14. Anonymous

    What rot. The majority of students will pay for 30 years under this system, adding up to a LOT more than under the old system, where even moderate earners could pay it off. Of course you have to rob people, reducing their lifetime income, to line your pockets.

  15. Selohesra

    Indeed its a choice – going to university not compulsory but if by going you earn better than average salary surely its fair you pay for that benift. Your lies are IRRESPONSIBLE as is anyone who suggests the poor will be starved out of attending University (or even a former poly which is where I suspect you hang out) – If you don’t earn enopugh after leaving Uni then you don’t p[ay for your education.

  16. Anonymous

    You’re the one lying.

    You’re telling people THEY WILL BENEFIT from going to University. THIS IS A LIE. They will LOSE MONEY over their working lifespan (The graduate premium in this country is TINY – around 2k/year, and this is distorted by very high earners in the City). It is NOT in their financial interest to go to University in this country unless it’s medical (the NHS pays) or they’re headed direct into the city (i.e. your rich kids).

    Going out the UK to study in the EU is cheaper these days.
    No – what’s “fair” is that people personally benefit. In addition to the major boost they’ll give to the economy, which exists quite separately to personal benefit. But don’t worry, the companies which are left will import a lot of graduates, your plan!

    And that’s before we consider that we have a government who think it’s reasonable to change pensions without consulting…and there is LESS stopping them from changing repayment terms to more punitive ones. You’re telling everyone to trust a government which has already thrown away it’s public capital in that area.

    (I also like your slurs, two of the three Universities I work for are most definitely NOT former Polys, and the last is a specialist University)

  17. Spartacus

    Whilst I agree the basic fact that some additional people will have been put off applying this year due to the increased fee value, I’d like to make 3 quick points regarding your comment and the article:

    1 – You argue that a ~£27k loan (3 years of 9k) is unaffordable. I would point out to you that, with your conditions, you should probably worry that much of life will be even more so. A student loan is designed to be affordable (you don’t pay as much as a bank would ask for, you only pay once you’re earning X amount, you can take breaks if you become unemployed etc.) and accessible (it is automatically given to everyone regardless of future ambition or collateral). None of these conditions are met by a private loan that you might take out to buy the car you mention, none of them are included for the mortgage you assume you’ll get and be able to pay off. I also fear that having a child, let alone more than 1, will cost more than 9k a year and certainly more that 27k in total, yet everyone will have kids and everyone will get on with their lives. Student loans have a bad reputation because 14 years ago they didn’t exist. Objectively, they’re a great deal. The issue here is not the loan.

    2 – Your cousin has, perhaps unknowingly, performed an excellent cost-benefit analysis of the options you presented to them. They have decided not to go to Uni, which is neither right nor wrong, but is their choice based on the facts (that you are likely to get degree X but it will probably cost you 3 year’s fees and then interest until you’ve repaid). Your Cousin obviously doesn’t want to go to Uni as much as others (which is again neither right nor wrong) because tens of thousands are still applying, regardless of fees and loans. If she were utterly determined, then the fees could be astronomical and still be no object. Many strive to get to Uni despite being from even poorer backgrounds or areas of the country (your criteria – I would not raise them otherwise). You paint her choice as society’s failure, but I would say it’s simply a decision along her walk of life. It’s not even a final one, anyone can apply, whenever and choose to complete degrees over more time, at home or later in life. Not following ‘the crowd’ does not mean you’re doing it wrong. The fees/ her choosing not to go is not the issue here.

    3 – This issue comes down to a debate on how many people should go to Uni? If far fewer people went to university, it could probably be completely paid for (no fees, extra bursaries etc.). This would both be loved by the left (free education) and hated (elitist education). If everyone went, perhaps as an extension of compulsory education, then the country would either go bankrupt (~1M people a year at full fees and bursaries = 12-15k per person? = £12-15BN extra a year and only increasing) or the standard of education offered would fall drastically by spreading the current (too small, if you’d like my opinion) budget across all the required courses and unis. University has never been an inalienable right, nor can it ever be, otherwise absolutely everyone in the country should be offered the chance to go (nb. we’ve already said age and current life status doesn’t matter in getting a degree). Too many teenagers go to university for there ever to be a reduction in fees or an increase in the quality of education without an increase in fees. These were the second highest application figures on record, ever. If you want your cousin or, more likely, future generations to have a free higher education then you should campaign for fewer people to go and applaud your cousin in their leadership on this point.

    4. Simple demographics require that there will always need to be a significant proportion (I would argue a majority) of teenagers who do not go to University. Why do builders, or entrepreneurs, or shopkeepers, or hairdressers, or mums, or gardeners, or receptionists, or soldiers need a degree? Since when did anyone NEED a degree to have “hope”? And since when, for many people, was Uni nothing more than a “waste of time”? A degree may open some doors for you in terms of obtaining specialist education or ‘proving’ that you are clever enough to have gotten a degree but it closes other doors (over-educated, no experience) and ignores those other doors that are opened by many other qualifications or experiences. The only thing sending more and more people to Uni achieves is to dilute the ‘value’ some careers believed a degree had in the first place: graduate companies will only recruit from the most academic universities (their own prejudices) and you’ll need an extra masters or Phd to prove you’re ‘clever’ enough to take the ‘top’ jobs.

    University is an enabler and a great equaliser in life (i.e. anyone with a medical degree can become a doctor, not just doctor’s sons). Everyone has the opportunity to go (they actually do, all this state vs. private, rich vs. poor bollocks is overcome by hard work, natural intelligence and ambition). Everyone is able to pay (they can because it is a loan, available to all, payable when you can afford to repay it). So, if there is an issue with University (which there is in your opinion – that people have to pay as much as they do), it is because too many people go to make the experience either cheaper or of a better quality.

  18. Anonymous

    Oh, and I note that your argument applies equally well to 16-18 education!

  19. Julian

    Might it be, perhaps, that last year’s applications were higher than normal because of students avoiding gap years in order to beat the rise in fees? i.e. The so called fall in applications, if it exists at all, is not as significant as you make out.

    Also, the fee increases (which I don’t agree with either) were recommended by the Browne Report, commissioned by Labour.

  20. Rory Weal

    RT @leftfootfwd: Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students http://t.co/5PUI9gaD < my post today

  21. Phil Taylor

    RT @leftfootfwd: Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students http://t.co/5PUI9gaD < my post today

  22. Selohesra

    Keep up your misinformation Botty – Dr Goebels would be proud of you. Scaring the poor away from education is presumably justified in your twisted world as worthwhile in furtherance of your ideology. The truth is though that those who get less well paid jobs will never repay their loans. Whilst free education for everyone for ever might sound nice at the end of the day someone needs to go out into real world to get real money to pay for it all.

  23. Anonymous

    Oh yes, telling the truth is the same in your world as being your approved family doctor. Keep up the propaganda, hurting people for the sake of your shares.

    And that’s right, and you’re determined that it’ll be the 99% who pays and pays and pays and pays and pays and pays. Graduates make the economy cash, a concept you’re utterly opposed to in your campaign for chinese wages.

    The truth is, again, the new fees will COST the average person paying them cash across their working life. You can pray to your totalitarian gods all the like, but you can’t change that.

  24. Mr. Sensible

    What a mess…

  25. Anonymous


    If you care about this country’s economic wellbeing, then funding those degrees is more than affordable. The fact is, in 30 years most of that debt will be written off anyway, with predictably disastrous results.

    The advance technology says there are fewer and fewer low-skill jobs. This is not a trend which will stop or slow for your ideology. Nor will international companies care, they’ll require a degree just as before for their roles. We’ve had a falling % graduation rate for years, this is now going to plummet. Wages are going to nosedive.

    University, under the new fees, is NOT an “equaliser”. It HURTS the finances of the person taking it, over their entire working life. They are better off, at retirement, if they have NOT gone to University! The COUNTRY benefits, but they LOSE!

    Your hatred for this country, and the saps you’re leeching off…
    I’d strongly suggest a more fitting user-name like…oh…Crassus.

  26. Selohesra

    Hope your head is OK this am Botty – must of been pretty strong stuff you were on last night judging by that last post of rambling fantasy and abuse.

  27. Selohesra

    Charming – Spartacus makes well reaasoned points (four rather than the three prommissed but we’ll let that go) and you still resort to type by going straight into abuse

  28. JC

    If having a degree is so beneficial to the country, why don’t we just award them to people leaving school so they don’t have to spend so much time at university and collect the debt? Cheaper for all and obviously good for the country.

  29. Nick Ryder

    Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students, writes @RoryWeal: http://t.co/PacI8r5E

  30. fírgoa

    Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students | Left Foot Forwa http://t.co/e8amtZvS

  31. Selohesra

    I see some of your posts from yesterday have changed/gone – that is quite clever 🙂

  32. Anonymous

    …Go read up on the Bologna Framework before you look like even more of a…

  33. Anonymous

    Truth is not abuse, totalitarian. Go back to Stormfront.

  34. Anonymous

    I’m not the one going round head-butting people for fun.

  35. Anonymous

    You think? At least I don’t have a “cute” name, when it’s read from left to right. Fitting, though.

  36. Claude Gohier

    Royaume uni: La hausse des frais de scolarité résulte en une diminution des inscriptions. http://t.co/J9MERGw5 cc @francoislegault

  37. Welsh universities face radical overhaul | Left Foot Forward

    […] See also: • Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students 11 Jul […]

  38. Stopthesuperuni


    Do you think you can wait any longer to take action against this sort of thing? We warned you it would happen: Want to find out why? Read on AND TAKE ACTION NOW!

    This is the Stop The Super University NOW Campaign,

    Set-up by local residents in solidarity with Students, Staff and Businesses in Wales, who are opposed to the resulting cuts and subsiquent costs socially, economically, politically and environmentally that will occur by the creating of “Super Universities” in Wales.

    Our aim is to reveal the truth about these plans, especially the fact that the Super Universities will forever ruin the opportunities for further and higher education in Wales, as well as giving those who are profiting from such plans an unjust monopoly over the industry for their own gains.

    We also wish to warn young people of the risks to their educational choices and the fact that this plan might create a two-tier system – One University for the “elite” and one sub-standard university for everyone else (with this uni most likely also taking control of the jobs market) as well as the lack of representation they will have when enrolling to such a establishment. Already Students at Cardiff Metropolitan University has voted with its feet, with over 80% knowing that their studies and future prospects would be irrepairably damaged as a direct result, along with concern being mooted by students at Newport and elsewhere also. There is no wish within the student body or university staff body in Wales for this merger – Despite this clear opposition, the taxdodging Education Minister carries on regardless – so further action needs to be taken now.

    Already Cardiff Council, Cardiff Metropolitan University have spoken out, plus many staff and students from all of Wales’ institutions have come to us, uncovering the plans that the wealthy and powerful few have set in place, including the silencing of any debate both in public and in the media over the long-term consiquences of such actions, as well as legalised “gagging”/“compulsory redundancies” of members of staff from those institutions in favour of the plans for “corporate reasons”. International students have also come forward and reported the immense systems failure that they face, including underhand methods to make them stay on (everything from grade-changing without reason between “pass” and “fail” despite high subject attainment, to heavy-handed charges well in excess of the income they and their families have) and dragging them into poverty – This is a discrace to the values that we as a nation hold.

    We are against the idea of a centralised and controlled education economy set-out and directly controlled by one minister (Leighton Andrews – who double-crossed the Lib-Dems and is about to double cross the people of Wales with his scheme) and one institution (Glamorgan University Group) who are using this plan for their own profit and selfish greed-gotten gains, especially so shortly after the failure of the University of Wales Federal Super University.

    We encourage those who want to learn the truth and stop this disaster, to follow our posts, spread the word in protest and to start the debate going in the higher echelons of government and civic society – because if it really is such a “good scheme” as the Minister claims, then why are so many people being silenced from speaking out? We also encourage those with information to come forward in confidence if they have any further information on the cuts to further and higher education in Wales that will have long-term impact on the Welsh Economy.

    The Power is in your hands – Don’t let us down


    Stop The Super University NOW Campaign

    [email protected]

  39. There needs to be fairer access to universities for the people of Scotland | Left Foot Forward

    […] See also: • Fall in applications undermines government claims fee rise will not deter students 11 Jul […]

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