Friday, April 16, 1999 Published at 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
End of grants 'not deterring students'
Student grants will soon be a thing of the past
More young people are applying for university places in spite of the abolition of student grants and the introduction of tuition fees.
Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show that 284,121 under-21s had applied for places by the end of March - a slight rise on last year.
Unlike their predecessors, most students beginning higher education courses this autumn will be unable to claim grants to cover some of their living costs.
They will have to rely on a new loan system, as well as paying up to £1,000-a-year in tuition fees.
But the overall numbers applying for university places has dropped by 2.5% to 374,117, mainly as a result of a fall in applications from mature and overseas students.
Mr Higgins said: "The drop in the number of mature applicants is disappointing, but the government_s recent announcement of initiatives to widen participation among mature applicants and disadvantaged groups should help to tackle this.
"The number of overseas applicants has been affected for some time by changes in tuition fee arrangements in the Republic of Ireland and economic circumstances in South East Asia."
The Education Minister, Baroness Blackstone, said the figures proved that the government's policies were bringing more young people into higher education.
"These figures clearly demonstrate the continuing strong demand that exists for higher education, and that the reforms we introduced were right," she said.
But the Conservatives' education spokesman, Damian Green, said the overall fall in applications was evidence of a failure of government policy.
"The fall of 5,150 in the number of UK students applying for university courses this year is a clear sign that the government's decision to abolish maintenance grants and introduce tuition fees at the same time is damaging higher education," he said.
"The chief executive of UCAS is being appallingly complacent in describing these figures as good news. The government should hold an urgent review of student funding, to try to repair the damage before it is too late."
The latest figures for applications also reveal a continuing rise in the numbers of applications for computer courses. These are now only second in popularity to business courses, overtaking the number of applications to study law.