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Friday, June 12, 1998 Published at 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK


Tuition fees deter would-be teachers

Fewer mature students are applying to go to universities

There has been a drop of more than 15% in the number of people applying for primary teacher training degree courses this autumn - one of the most dramatic effects attributed to the government's imposition of tuition fees.

Fears that there would be a generally negative impact on applications appear to be proving largely groundless.

There has been a rise of just over 1% in the number of higher education applications from under-21s - 286,397 in total. But more mature students are dropping out of the system.

[ image: Jocelyn Davies, mature student in Oxford:
Jocelyn Davies, mature student in Oxford: "I would not have been able to take up this opportunity"
Figures published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show that, overall, there has been a drop of 2.4% in those applying to degree, Higher National Diploma and Diploma of Higher Education courses in the UK's 254 universities and colleges.

Within this, there was a significant 6.2% fall in the number of overseas applicants, down to 46,160. The UK-only figure was 1.9% down.

All the figures relate to May 16 this year, compared to the same date in 1997. Processing of late applications continues into August. They relate to applications rather than potential students because each person can make up to six applications - the average number is five.

Blunkett welcomes the figures

The Chief Executive of the admissions service, Tony Higgins, said: "Our most up-to-date figures show that the number of UK under-21s applying is now up on last year, and overall the drop in applications is now 2.4% ... There is still concern over the fall in the number of mature applicants.

In acknowledgement of this, the government on Monday announced measures aimed at helping mature students into higher education.

[ image: UCAS chief executive Tony Higgins says that applications from the under-21s have increased]
UCAS chief executive Tony Higgins says that applications from the under-21s have increased
"There is also a significant drop in the number of overseas applicants," Mr Higgins said, "but this is largely due to economic issues in parts of South East Asia, and changes in tuition fee arrangements in the Republic of Ireland."

The Education Secretary David Blunkett said the figures "destroy the myth" that the dropping of the student grant and the introduction of £1,000-a-year tuition fees for most students would put people off going to university.

"According to research by Ucas, there is no evidence that people from poorer families are being deterred.

"As expected, mature student applications have fallen, reflecting a downward trend in the past few years.

"The job market is stronger, so fewer unemployed people are considering higher education and more are studying part-time; numbers of people in their 20s are falling; and more and more of those aged 21 will already have entered higher education, as numbers going on to higher education from school have increased."

Teacher training options

The precise reduction in the number of applications for the Bachelor of Education courses is 15.4%, to 53,378. It is the biggest fall identified in the admissions service figures.

[ image: Worth it?]
Worth it?
The service says: "Recruitment for four-year B.Ed courses may be affected by the introduction of tuition fees, as potential teachers can save one year's fee by opting for a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education after a three-year degree course because no fee is payable for the post-graduate course."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education and Employment said the decision to exempt post-graduate trainee teachers from paying the fourth year tuition fees had been deliberate.

"That's where we felt the need was," she said. "Many students may feel that's a better way to go into teaching."

Some of the biggest increases are in software engineering - up by more than a fifth - and computer science - up 15.4%. Marketing and market research is also proving highly popular - applications for those courses are up by almost a fifth.

The 'Scottish anomaly'

Universities in Scotland, which typically have four-year degree courses, are also feeling the impact of the way the government has handled the introduction of tuition fees there.

Students born in Scotland will not have to pay for the fourth year; applicants from elsewhere will.

As a result, the admissions service notes, the number of applicants to Scottish higher education institutions is down 4.5%, compared to 2.3% in England and 1.7% in Wales.

Strikingly, there has been a near-doubling in the number of those from England applying to skip the first year at a Scottish university. Only those with outstanding academic abilities are likely to succeed in this attempt to save money.

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