Nearly 3,000 fewer in Yorkshire apply for places at universities

THE NUMBER of people applying to university from Yorkshire fell by almost 3,000 this academic year with 1,300 fewer students accepting places, new figures reveal.

The statistics obtained from UCAS – broken down for 21 council areas across Yorkshire – show that in 2011 44,980 people from the region applied to university and 33,375 accepted places.

But for this academic year the figure fell to 42,010 people applying and 32,040 accepting places.

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A nationwide drop in applicants coincided with higher fees of up to £9,000-a-year being brought in and there are fears numbers will drop further in 2013/14.

The expected fall comes as bosses at one Yorkshire university have warned that there is still some confusion among students as to how the new tuition fee system works.

There were also warnings that university departments could close in future as student demand changes with the new higher fee regime.

The total number of applicants in 2012 dropped by 6.6 per cent to 653,600 – 46,500 people.

The key deadline for applications to UCAS passed yesterday and university bosses in the region and predicting that applications will continue to decline.

Prof Paul White, Sheffield University’s pro-vice-chancellor for learning and teaching, said: “Nationally, the picture is that applications to enter universities are certainly down once again for 2013.

“However, there are some reports of a late surge in applications. The new fees regime is likely to be only one of a number of causes for any fall: others may include uncertainty about the future jobs market, and students’ concerns about their likelihood of achieving the necessary A-level grades, given the depression of top A-level results in 2012.”

A university boss from the region, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Yorkshire Post the sector did not yet fully understand the extent of the drop of students accepting offers in 2012.

He said: “Figures show that there were eight per cent less offers being made by universities so you might have expected the overall drop in student numbers to be around the same level but in fact it was 15 per cent. This means there was perhaps 25,000 students who had done A-levels were given offers but have decided not to go to university.”

He said that universities could also be starting to see a major change in the courses students were applying for, adding: “There has been a decline in people applying for art and design, languages, humanities and social sciences – including media while there has been an increase in people applying for subjects such as sciences, engineering and law.

“Different institutions will see differential changes. Those with strong brand positions and high entry grades may be able to grow at the margins.

“Those with high concentrations of students in areas which look to be growing under the new fee regime may see growth and those with high concentrations of provision in areas which appear to be shrinking may also see changes. But it is very early to be able to predict this with any certainty.

“It is unlikely we will see whole higher education institutions close but there may be some closure of some departments here and there, but that is not unusual.”

Universities will discover how many places they are being given for 2013/14 at the end of this week. The Higher Education Funding Council for England which funds universities has confirmed that it is not basing this quota on 2012 recruitment levels as it has been an “atypical” year because of the higher fees and new recruitment regime. Universities are urging the Government to continue to explain how the higher fees work as they recruit for 2013.

Prof Brian Cantor, the vice chancellor of York University, said: “Our experience from open days suggests that prospective students and their parents understand that it is not an up-front payment.

“So, clearly, that message has got through but, collectively, it’s important that the Government and the higher education sector continues to explain in clear terms that higher education is something people should aspire to and that mechanisms exist for everyone to benefit from it.”

Prof White added: “There remains a high level of confusion in the minds of potential students and their parents, and many teachers also lack a full understanding of the system.

“Many elements in the mass media also create inaccurate impressions through their posing of questions such as ‘can you afford to send your children to university?’ The Government acted rather too slowly in publicising the new fees regime and it is taking time to correct mis-information.”