How university applications have fallen in 2012

University applications plummet as young people face degrees of separation:

  • Applications to study at university down by more than 20% in parts of the UK
  • North east is UK’s worst-hit region as potential students stay away from university
  • North Tyneside had the biggest drop in the UK as English constituencies dominate the worst-affected
  • “The figures demonstrate that trebling the cap on tuition fees has had a significant effect on capping the aspirations of young people”, said Sean McGuire, Ambitious Minds chief executive.

The north east saw the largest fall in university applications in the UK in the clearest demonstration to date that rising tuition fees has put a cap on young people’s aspirations.

Our latest analysis has found there were more than 10,000 fewer applications from the region in 2012 compared with a year earlier, a fall of 12.7%. The south west also saw a large drop, of 12.6%.

North Tyneside had the biggest drop out of all 650 UK constituencies, where applications were down 23.3%, compared with an average fall across the UK of 8.7%. Poole, Banbury, Tewkesbury and Brighton made up the rest of the bottom five.

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Sean McGuire, chief executive of Ambitious Minds, said: “Going to university is no longer an automatic choice for a teenager with good A-levels. It has become an investment decision that usually must be made by the family as an economic unit, and it is a decision that has significant risk.

“Young people who choose to go to university are burdening themselves with debts of more than £30,000 that will remain with them for decades if they aren’t paid off. The figures demonstrate that trebling the cap on tuition fees has had a significant effect on capping the aspirations of young people.

“This concern is particularly acute in a fragile jobs market characterised by high rates of youth and graduate unemployment that shows little sign of sustained improvement.”

The data, which was collated by the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), shows that England was particularly badly affected with university applications down by 9.9%. Applications from Northern Ireland were down 5.3% and down 1.3% in Wales, while applications from Scottish students showed a miniscule increase of 0.05%.

Just 21 of the 533 constituencies in England saw an increase, compared with 31 of Scotland’s 59 constituencies.

English students have been put off by rising fees, with the cap on annual tuition fees trebled to £9,000, with most universities choosing to charge the maximum allowed.

There are no fees for Scottish students studying in Scotland while the Welsh government pays a grant to cover tuition fees over £3,465 and both countries have seen much smaller reductions and many areas in those countries have seen an increase in applications.

However the rising cost of living and the fragile graduate labour market will remain a concern for all potential undergraduates regardless of their country of residence.

Mr McGuire added: “Increased thought and focus on whether university is the right choice for each individual is a positive thing – too often, teenagers were sleep-walking onto degree courses that weren’t right for them because they felt they had to go to university – but it is concerning that young people in some parts of the country are hearing this message disproportionately loud.

“The message young people need to hear is that it is good to have ambitions and aspirations and that a university education will often be the route that offers the best chance of fulfilling those goals.

“But they must also understand that in searching for this reward, university does come with significant financial risk. It is imperative they understand what they are signing up to and have a plan to deal with their financial obligations and to do that requires young people to develop the skills and knowledge to build their own independent adult lives.”

UK regions

1. Scotland
2. Wales
3. Northern Ireland
4. West Midlands
5. Yorkshire and the Humber
6. North West
7. London
8. East Midlands
9. South East
10. East
11. South West
12. North East

The full data with regional and national rankings can be downloaded here.