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UCAS: Impact of high tuition fees on application behaviour of UK students

Slightly fewer young English students applied to universities and colleges than expected in the 2012 admissions cycle, while those who did apply have mostly chosen courses that have tuition fees (before any fee waivers or other support) at or near the maximum GBP 9 000 (EUR 11 520), according to a recent analysis published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) of the United Kingdom (UK).

Despite anticipated changes in the application behaviour following the tripling of tuition fees for English universities in 2012, the UCAS analysis concludes, among other things, that “There has been no substantial move towards or away from higher fee courses compared to choices made by young [English] applicants in previous cycles”. The trend that applicants from more disadvantaged backgrounds applying to courses with lower tuition fees than those from advantaged backgrounds, as well as the application rate of the disadvantaged to higher tariff institutions in 2011, remain virtually the same as in the previous cycles.

The most noticeable change between 2011 and 2012 revealed in the analysis is a drop of 15 to 20% in the application rates for English applicants older than 18, the so-called ‘delayed transition students’ or ‘lifelong learners’. This represents around 30 000 fewer applicants than if application rates had remained at the 2011 level. In comparison, application rates for older age groups in 2012 show no sign of decline in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, where tuition fee levels for domestic students are similar to 2011.

In terms of mobility flows, the trend for Welsh young people to study outside Wales has continued to increase, but the application rate of young people from Scotland and Northern Ireland to study outside their home country has fallen in 2012. This may be explained by the comparatively lower tuition fees applicable to Welsh students (GBP 3 465 or EUR 4 435) regardless of where they study in the UK, including their home country and England. . On the contrary, students from Scotland and Northern Ireland will encounter much higher tuition fees in 2012 if they step outside their borders but not far enough beyond the UK.

Scottish students, who are not liable to pay tuition fees when studying at home institutions, continue to be the least mobile with 40% of them indicating their intention to study whilst living at home. English applicants, who are liable to a maximum tuition fee of GBP 9 000 wherever they study in the UK, do not show significant changes in their application behaviour neither, if and when they do apply to study.