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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 12:53 GMT
Are top-up fees changing courses?
Students
Are students more career-driven?
University applications are rising despite increased tuition fees in England and Northern Ireland.

Vocational courses are continuing to rise in popularity but does this mean students are choosing courses more with their heads than their hearts?

Top-up fees of 3,000 a year came in last September.

The fees do not have to be paid up-front and can be deferred until graduates are earning a certain amount.

But have the changes made people think hard about making their courses pay?

For Amy, a sixth-former in Barry, South Wales, money was a factor in her decision about where to apply to university. She is planning to study psychology at a Welsh university.

"My parents have just put my brother through uni. They were just about keeping up with the costs so I knew I could not afford to go to England," she said.

"But there is a very good psychology course at Bangor fortunately."

'Saving earlier'

Fellow sixth-former at Bro Morgannwg School, Huw, has opted to apply for Durham University despite the difference in cost.

Welsh students studying at Welsh universities will be liable for 1,200 a year in tuition fees rather than 3,000 in England.

He says he chose course over cash: "Money was a factor but in the end it was the reputation of the university and the history department at Durham which made me want to go there".

Huw, sixth-former applying to university
Huw says he chose "course over cash"

The school's deputy head teacher Rhian Griffith said England's top-up fees were affecting choices.

"50% have opted for university in England and 50% for Wales," she said.

"Parents are definitely talking about how much it will cost but students themselves are not worried.

"Parents are starting to save earlier."

Across England, vocational courses such as engineering and business studies are continuing to rise in popularity.

Does this mean students are thinking more carefully about where their course might lead them?

Surrey University has seen a dramatic increase in overall applications - up 39% on last year to a total of 11,158.

Vice Chancellor Professor Christopher Snowden is delighted and attributes the university's popularity to courses which are "academically stringent with real-world applications".

Students and parents are looking for a high level of employability
Professor Snowden, Surrey University

Some of the biggest increases are in maths, physics and engineering - which are all up by more than 40%.

All of the university's courses offer a placement in the UK or abroad for the student's third year.

Professor Snowden said: "Students and parents are looking for a high level of employability. 80% of students opt to have a placement. For example, music students might go to work at a professional recording studio.

"With the introduction of variable fees prospective students no longer see education as an end in itself but as an investment in the future.

"Students and their parents realise that getting a university education is a passport to a rewarding career."

Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell says young people realise they will be financially better off if they get a degree.

He said: "When viewed across a whole lifetime, it's estimated that graduates will earn on average over 100,000 more after tax, compared to those with just two A-levels, and it seems from the figures today that our young people continue to appreciate the value of higher education.

"Given the scale of global competition it is critical for the economy that more people get a graduate level education.

"Going to university is the best investment young people can make."


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