According to official UCAS figures, the overall number of applications for university places has fallen by 7.4% compared to this time last year.
The 2012 intake of students will be the first under the new higher fee system that the coalition government imposed against mass student protests last year. The unpopularity of the new tuition fee system was visible last year, with the now infamous student protests; these recently published figures serve as little more than confirmation of the disapproval felt by would-be students about this policy.
Now, universities are losing out on revenue that could be generated by prospective students that have been put off by higher fees. Equally, potential students are missing out on the higher education available to them due to the economic deterrent the new fees pose. Only time will tell what this double effect the increased fees will have on the higher education sector.
However, a relative freeze in the cost of tuition fees to overseas students studying in the UK has led, so far, to a slightly increased number of applications from foreign students. Students from overseas pay much higher tuition fees to universities than UK residents do (and will so even after the fee increase), and therefore generate more money for the university which they attend. Would raising the cost tuition fees to overseas students discourage them from applying to study in the UK, as appears to be the case for British residents? The fact that tuition fees for foreign students have not been increased could lead some to suggest that the more profitable, cost-effective foreign students will be prioritised over the less profitable UK based ones.
Aggressive government cuts in the education sector in an attempt to patch up the countries deficit has, to all intents and purposes, caused deficits in university budgets up and down the country. Critics would argue that this could lead to Universities being run more like businesses than places of education, prioritising pounds sterling over pupil satisfaction.
Should the coalition not do the responsible thing and ring fence funding for education instead of cutting it, and shattering opportunities for up-coming generations? Instead of investing and promoting higher education and youth employment, the government is chipping away at the foundations and integrity of future generation, stunting social mobility, employment prospects and the potential UK economy.
In spite of huge opposition, the government went ahead with education cuts and increased fees. Now, some ‘would-be’ students are voting with their feet, and simply not applying for universities. The loaned money these prospective students would be spending, helping local university-city economies and feeding money back to the government coffers in the form of V.A.T on their purchases, as well as generating interest on the loan that would be paid directly back to the government, will now do none of this. Considering also the low levels of youth employment at the moment, what will this 7.4% do?
There are already suggestions that the increased tuition fees are leading to radical changes in the way in which some universities are run; there is now an economic incentive for universities to ‘drop’ courses which are uneconomical or expensive. A course with a low intake of students will make a University less money that a course with greater numbers; and due to the difficult times that lay ahead, in term of low funding and overall lower numbers of applicants, it is possible to argue that there will be greater focus on the performance and cost of individual courses.
Leeds Metropolitan should perhaps be more aware than any University about the impact of increasing the cost of tuition fees. Little over two years ago, this institution undercut the contemporary cap of around £3300, and charged only £2000. This bold and pioneering move was an attempt to secure a higher number of student applications than ever before.
Through the lower fees, Leeds Metropolitan students would, in effect, leave university with less debt and in better fiscal shape than their counterparts and competitors from other universities; this not only would decrease the possibility of applicants being deterred by the cost off university, but benefit students in the long run.
The increased fees have had the polar opposite affect than what Leeds Metropolitan was trying to accomplish not three years ago. The figures thus far prove this. Yes, the deficit needs to be cut, but why attack crucial, fundamental sectors like education? Let’s just hope that the drop in applications is due to the rhetoric surrounding the increase in the cost of student fees, and the fees themselves have not acted as the deterrent.
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