This report follows on from the Independent Commission on Fees’ previous report on applications and acceptances to higher education in the UK. Our previous reports, based on data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), highlighted a number of concerns about the possible impact of the 2012/13 changes to university fees:
- A negative impact on demand, evidenced by the relatively steep decline in the overall numbers of applications to university in 2012/13 from English applicants
- An increased gender gap in those taking up places at university
- A steep decline in the numbers of mature students both applying for and taking up places
- A large gap between the most and least privileged students in the uptake of places at the most selective universities
- Application rates for 18 year olds in England have continued to recover from their depressed level in 2012, with rates in 2014 1.9 percentage points above their 2010 levels.
- The proportion of the 18 year old population taking up places at university has also recovered in all countries of the UK. Entry rates for English 18 year olds were 2.9 percentage points higher at 30.3% in 2013 than their 2010 levels. The increases in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, were 0.2pp, 1.8pp, and 2.5pp, respectively.
- Numbers of applications and acceptances by mature students have also recovered slightly but remain substantially lower than their pre-2012 levels, particularly in England. In 2014, numbers of English residents aged 20-24 and 25+ applying to university were 8% and 11% below their 2010 levels, respectively. Mature student numbers also remain substantially depressed in terms of the take up of university places. 18% fewer people aged 25+ took up places in 2013 than did in 2010.
- Enrolment figures for the 2012/13 academic year (relating to the 2012 applications cycle) show that the year of the fee changes saw particularly large reductions in the number of mature students entering part-time courses. Over 100,000 fewer students over the age of 25 started part-time higher education courses in 2012/13 than did in 2009/10 – a reduction of 43%.
- This was part of a more general decline in part-time higher education, with 41% fewer part-time enrolments overall in 2012/13 than in 2009/10. Provisional figures highlighted by Universities UK suggest that this decline has continued in the most recent academic year.
- The gender gap in applications and acceptances has continued to increase. In 2013, 21% more female than male 18 year olds entered university. This gap is largest among disadvantaged applicants, meaning disadvantaged boys are particularly under-represented.
- The gap in application and entry rates between advantaged and disadvantaged students has narrowed slightly, but remains unacceptably large – particularly for the most selective universities:
- In 2010, English school-leavers from the least disadvantaged backgrounds were 3.2 times more likely to enter higher education than were those from the most disadvantaged. In 2013 this ratio was 2.8.
- In 2010, the number of English school-leavers from the least disadvantaged backgrounds entering the 30 most selective universities in the UK (the Sutton Trust 30) was 7.3 times higher than the number entering from the most disadvantaged areas. In 2013 this ratio had narrowed to 6.8. o However, for the 13 most prestigious UK universities (the Sutton Trust 13) the ratio was 9.8 and remained at 9.5 in 2013.
- Polling by Ipsos MORI for the Sutton Trust shows that a majority of the public supports reduced fees for students from lower income homes, with this support being largely consistent across demographic groups (including majority support among both parents and non-parents).