Universities see sharp fall in student numbers

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TENS of thousands fewer students started university courses this autumn following the move to triple tuition fees, it was suggested today.

Concerns were also raised about the “worrying” drop-off in men entering higher education.

Women are now a third more likely to start a degree course than men, according to a Ucas report on university entry for 2012.

The report reveals that, in total, 53,900 fewer students started their studies this autumn, compared to last year.

It suggests that this was affected by a fall in the number of people deferring their degree last year - to avoid paying higher tuition fees.

Students who began degree courses this autumn were the first to pay tuition fees of up to £9,000.

Ucas raised concerns that women are more likely to enter higher education than men are to apply.

Among UK 18-year-olds, women were a third more likely to enter higher education than men this year, the report said.

In 2012, the entry rate fell for both men and women but the decrease for men was four times greater than for women.

“The fact that women remain more likely to enter higher education than men are to apply is a striking and worrying finding,” Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said.

The report does show an increase in the proportion of 18-year-olds from poor areas who were accepted for entry into higher education in 2012.

Ms Curnock Cook said: “The headline numbers in this report signal the challenging environment for recruitment in 2012 for some parts of UK higher education.

“However, the underlying findings are more subtle - for example, although demand for higher education has fallen in England, the actual entry rates for young people are close to trend.

“The continuing increase in participation from more disadvantaged groups is very encouraging, as is the absence of any signal that they are turning away from higher fee courses.”

Liam Burns, NUS President, said: “It is welcome news that despite a wider crash in university applications that those from the most disadvantaged students held up as fees were trebled. It would be disastrous if misunderstandings about how fees are paid put off any students unnecessarily.

“However, the government should not take this as vindication of the changes they made; indications are that there has been another worrying early drop in application rates this year which they are currently ignoring.

“The botched AAB+ system which has seen a fall in applications from those groups, combined with potential instability in future funding, a push away from the bursaries that students prefer over partial fee waivers and many other changes mean that the government has created confusion throughout the sector. Applications are falling overall and students from wealthier areas are still much more likely to go to university than poorer ones. The government have created chaos in higher education and one positive statistic is not evidence of a job well done.”

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