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Charles Levy
Senior Economist
Charles  Levy

Are university applications still running at a 9% deficit?

Authors: Charles Levy Charles Levy

24 October 2011

Data released by UCAS today was worrying. Comparing September this year to last almost 4,000 fewer people applied for places at university for the following year. Given that typically only 10,000 to perhaps 15,000 people typically apply this early in the year this is a huge drop of close to a third. This will be the first year that higher tuition fees will kick in, and this has been widely blamed. If right, this is a real worry – we have long argued that we need a strong a demand for higher education to fuel our knowledge economy.

But, the October figures were much more encouraging. Applications to start in 2012 were only 3,000 down this year but this is only a 5% fall since far more prospective students apply in October each year. There is a good chance we are talking about a stabilising situation. This won’t make up for the terrible application performance in September, but it suggests it is not time to panic just yet. Every year we see swings in when students choose to apply for university courses. The key point is that when students choose to apply doesn’t always impact on how many actually end up applying. As late as November last year we were looking at a 14.6% bump in total applicants compared to that point in 2010, yet the final figure was only 1.4% higher – applicants were choosing to apply early. The reverse might just be happening now.