- Non-European languages are worst hit courses, as applicants fall by 21.5%
- South West sees biggest fall in would-be students – down 12.6%
- Boys are put off more than girls, with 8.5% fewer men and 6.7% fewer women applying.
Thousands of middle-class youngsters have been priced out of university by the trebling of tuition fees to £9,000-a-year, figures revealed yesterday.
Sixth-formers from families with pre-tax incomes between £40,000 and £80,000 have been hardest hit by fee hikes which threaten to leave graduates with debts of £50,000.
Several thousand youngsters from middle and higher-income homes have been put off applying by the prospect of paying up to £9,000-a-year in tuition charges on top of living costs.
They fail to qualify for grants and other scholarships designed to lessen the impact of the new charging regime on the poorest.
Families earning less than £25,000 are eligible for maintenance grants to help meet living expenses, with universities also offering means-tested bursaries. Pupils with household incomes up to £42,600 qualify for partial grants.
The number of university applicants across England has fallen by nearly 10 per cent following news that most universities will impose higher charges this autumn.
Older students have deserted higher education in greatest numbers, with lesser falls among 18-year-old school leavers.
But official figures yesterday showed a sharper fall among better-off sixth-formers than ‘disadvantaged’ candidates.
According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the proportion of youngsters applying from the wealthiest fifth of the country dropped 2.5 percentage points – a fall of 3,000.
These families live in postcodes that are most likely to send children to university. Their likely average gross household income is around £80,000.
The proportion of applicants from middle-earning families dropped by about one percentage point.
In contrast, the percentage of pupils applying from the poorest fifth of England dipped just 0.2 points – around 280 students.
These families live in postcodes least likely to send children to university, with a likely average income of £11,800-a-year.
On average, one in 20 18-year-olds who would have been expected to apply to university this year has failed to do so, UCAS said.
The figures suggest that wealthier youngsters are deciding in greater numbers to look for jobs instead of study for three years or more and build up mortgage-style debts in the process.
The trend will be seen as mounting evidence of pressure on the so-called ‘squeezed middle’ – the group bearing the brunt of economic policies aimed at easing Britain’s financial woes.
Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS chief executive, said: ‘Our analysis shows that decreases in demand are slightly larger in more advantaged groups than in disadvantaged groups.
‘Widely expressed concerns about recent changes in higher education funding arrangements having a disproportionate effect on more disadvantaged groups are not borne out by this data.’
Ministers insisted the number of 18-year-olds applying to university had largely held up despite the controversial fees policy, one of the Coalition’s most bitterly-contested reforms.
Sources pointed out the number of school-leavers from affluent backgrounds applying for university was still significantly higher than from lower-income groups.
But Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s higher education spokesman, said: ‘The decision of the Tory-led Government to treble tuition fees to £9,000 is hitting young people and their aspirations. It is clear the drastic increase in fees and the increased debt burden is putting people of all ages off going to university and investing in their future. Most students will be paying off their debts most of their working lives.’
The figures show how total applications for degree courses starting in the autumn were down 7.4 per cent – almost 44,000. Of these, 25,789 were aged 19 to 21. Many applied last year, causing a spike in recruitment.
The overall drop in applications was softened by a rise in the numbers from outside Europe.
Among UK students, applications were down 8.7 per cent – and 9.9 per cent among those living in England. In contrast, the number of applications from Scottish students – who will not pay tuition fees next year – dropped just 1.5 per cent.
Under the reforms, graduates only start repaying their loans when their income reaches £21,000. Outstanding repayments are written off after 30 years. Graduates on lower incomes are charged less interest than those who land top jobs.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: ‘We cannot afford a system that puts people off university if we are to compete in the modern world.’
EVEN ELITE SUFFER A DECLINE IN APPLICANTS DESPITE THEIR REPUTATION
Most elite universities suffered a decline in course applications despite their reputations, the UCAS figures show.
Warwick saw a drop of 10.1 per cent, Manchester 10 per cent and Liverpool 11 per cent. King’s College London saw applications slide 10.7 per cent and Birmingham 9.8 per cent.
Private universities, in contrast, are booming. Applications to the Buckingham University, which offers two-year courses it says are more cost-effective, more than doubled.
There were mixed fortunes for so-called ‘new’ universities.
Some which are charging less than the £9,000 maximum tuition fees saw applications rise, including the University of Wolverhampton, which clocked up an increase of 5.4 per cent. Others saw declines, such as Derby with 24.4 per cent fewer applications.
Schools will be banned from using ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses to inflate their ranking in league tables.
Thousands of ‘dead-end’ qualifications – including a course that teaches pupils to fill out a benefits claim form – will be axed from league tables under Coalition reforms unveiled today.
Education Secretary Michael Gove will say only 125 qualifications meet strict new criteria for inclusion in league tables, resulting in more than 3,000 being culled.