Friday, January 29, 1999 Published at 19:21 GMT
University applications down
There could be more spare places this year
The overall number of applications for entry to British universities next autumn has fallen by 1.8%.
Applications from mature students, for basic teacher training and language studies are down by about 10% - but computer-related courses are soaring in popularity.
Although most universities will consider applications after the deadline of mid-December, these figures cover the bulk of this year's applications - 326,311 in total.
About half of the fall is accounted for by a decline in overseas applications, particularly from the Far East, for economic reasons, and from the Republic of Ireland, which has just abolished tuition fees.
The introduction of fees of up to £1,000 ($1,650) a year in the UK could explain the sharper fall in applications to Scottish universities, where degree courses are typically one year longer.
Scottish students are exempt from paying the final year's fees - the so-called Scottish anomaly - and applications from north of the border show a much smaller decline. But it means courses there have become more expensive for many students from outside Scotland and applications from England, Wales and Northern Ireland are down significantly.
Applications from those aged under 21 were slightly up, at 260,725 compared with 259,574 last year. The big fall is in applications from mature students: down 10%. In an effort to counter this, the government has announced that part-time students at university are to be entitled to means-tested loans
The Conservative Party's Education Spokesman, Damien Green, said the UCAS figures for mature students showed a "worrying trend".
"The government claims to be concerned about widening access to education and lifelong learning, but its policies of abolishing maintenance grants and imposing tuition fees are clearly damaging both these objectives," he said.
The UCAS figures show significant increases in applications for courses in computer science (up 20.6%) and software engineering (22.3%) and also in sports science (8.9%), design studies (14%), marketing (8.2%), cinematics (22.9%), as well as combined business and administration (10.9%).
Applications to degree courses in nursing were also up a little (2.9%), as were those for geography (2.6%), maths (1.3%), economics (5.6%), music (1.5%) and drama (2.7%).
There were fewer applications to study languages (down 11.6%), medicine (6.9%), physics (10.3%) and teacher training (9.8%).
It is not possible to read too much into the raw applications data. A small variation in the total number might be caused by individual students applying to more or fewer universities, as UCAS counts applications, not individual applicants.
Each person can submit an application for up to six courses, so those who decide to apply to less than the maximum will cause a decrease in the applications total.