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Friday, 28 January, 2000, 17:50 GMT
University applications continue to fall

students Tuition fees are said to be making students cautious when applying to university

Applications to colleges and universities in the UK are down overall by 1.8% for the second year running, according to official figures published on Friday.

The statistics from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) show that by 15 December, the deadline for applications which institutions are obliged to consider, 320,450 people had applied for courses starting this autumn.

This is 1.8% less than the the previous year's figure, which had shown the same drop from the year before.

Unlike last year, when the number of applications from UK students under 21 rose by 0.4%, this year's figures show a drop across all age groups.

file A growing number of students are delaying sending off their applications

UK applications from under-21s dropped by 1.5%, students aged 21-24 by 0.4%, and those 25 and over by 5.4%.

The statistics will reinforce worries about the impact of tuition fees, just days after the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, announced a 68m package of measures to ease student hardship.

As Labour colleagues in Scotland published plans to abolish up-front fees, Mr Blunkett declared the system was "working well" elsewhere in the UK, pointing to an increase of 5,000 in full-time entrants to higher education this year.

However, he announced plans to adjust the means testing for the 1,025-a-year fees to exempt 50,000 more students.

And from next year, 10,000 of the poorest students in England and Wales will get bursaries similar to the maintenance grants which were abolished last year.

'Late application trend'

A Ucas spokesman said that by the time students actually started at university in the autumn, the number of applications received could have risen considerably.

This was because since the introduction of tuition fees, there had been a growing trend for more students to apply to universities after the 15 December deadline.

In 1997, 75.6% of applicants had sent in their forms by the deadline, in 1998 that fell to 74.5% and last year to 73.7%, Ucas said.

Although the number of applications in by 15 December, 1998 for the academic year 1999/2000 had fallen by 1.8% from the previous year, applications made after that deadline actually reduced this figure to 0.8%.

Chief Executive Tony Higgins said that if that trend continued, the number of students applying by the end of this summer would match last year, at around 442,000.

He said the trend towards late applications could reflect fee-paying students exercising more careful choice as consumers.

"Students are now paying customers who are looking not just for the best education but for a return in terms of job prospects - and added value in terms of flexibility and facilities.

"Applying late can be a risk, because universities and colleges do not guarantee to consider applications received after 15 December, and some of the most popular subjects, courses and institutions will be full.

"But for those applying for less popular choices, it is becoming a serious option."

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See also:
12 Jan 00 |  Education
Student numbers increasing
25 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
68m hardship package for students
08 Dec 99 |  Education
University plan to cut drop-outs

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