Headlines you won’t read today: University applications up this year more than 16%*

by Stephen Tall on January 30, 2012

Yes, you read that headline right: applications to university have gone up by 16% this year — when compared with 2009:

2009 – 464,167 applications (by Jan. deadline)
2012 – 540,073 (+16%)

I’m being deliberately selective, of course. This year’s round of applications — the first under the new fees regime — show a drop of 7.4% compared with last year (2011: 583,546), or a 5.3% drop compared with the year before (2010: 570,556). (Source: UCAS website; also for graph below.)

The point of my misleading headline is simple: headline figures can easily mislead.

My co-editor at Lib Dem Voice Mark Pack has previously analysed some of the underlying questions that need to be asked before rushing to judgement: for example, that the number of 18 year-olds is in demographic decline, leading to a natural fall in numbers applying to university. If you look at the application figures for 17 and 18 year-olds there has been a decline of 2.5% from 2011 to 2012. Co-incidentally this more or less matches the fall in the birth-rate from 1992 to 1993 (18 years ago).

There is also the simple fact that last year’s figures were higher as students rushed to beat the introduction of £9k fees, with fewer opting, for instance, to take gap years — so no surprise then that one of the biggest falls in university applications of any age group is among 19 year-olds (down 12.5%).

The biggest driver behind the fall in university application figures this year compared with 2011 is that fewer mature students have applied to university — as also happened in 1998, after Labour first introduced fees. It’s clear mature students are the most ‘price-sensitive’.

What we don’t know yet from the figures published is the socio-economic effect — ie, have £9k fees had a disproportionate effect on applicants from different income backgrounds? My colleagues at The Sutton Trust have helped establish an independent commission, headed by Will Hutton, to look at precisely this question.

However, the early indications, according to UCAS’s chief executive Mary Curnock Cook, are that those from the poorest backgrounds have not been more put off from applying:

“There has been a headline drop of 7.4% in applicants with a slightly larger fall in England. The more detailed analysis of application rates for young people takes account of population changes. This shows a fall of just one percentage point in the application rate in England, with little change across the rest of the UK. Our analysis shows that decreases in demand are slightly larger in more advantaged groups than in the disadvantaged groups. Widely expressed concerns about recent changes in HE funding arrangements having a disproportionate effect on more disadvantaged groups are not borne out by these data.”

20 comments

New post: Headlines you won't read today: University applications up this year more than 16%* http://t.co/A7tp5nDL

by Stephen Tall on January 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm. Reply #

New post: Headlines you won't read today: University applications up this year more than 16%* http://t.co/A7tp5nDL

by Adam Corlett on January 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm. Reply #

@johnleechmcr When you scratch under the surface of the figures it's a rather different (and more positive) story: http://t.co/4icBsjQJ

by Mark Pack on January 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm. Reply #

New post: Headlines you won't read today: University applications up this year more than 16%* http://t.co/A7tp5nDL

by Péter on January 30, 2012 at 2:21 pm. Reply #

[...] Stephen Tall has a full commentary on his blog: Headlines you won’t read today: University applications up this year more than [...]

by University figures: Highest year ever for teenager applications except for last year’s spike on January 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm. Reply #

You know what you should graph :

% of student leavers population attending university applying each year
(okay this will biais mature students out of the figures but will show a trend)

A dual line graph showing applications and places

Should help with the story, get the suspicion that if you extend back in time the trend becomes more interesting too…

J

by James Blessing on January 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm. Reply #

Headlines you won't read today: University applications up this year more than 16%* http://t.co/xgmskWA0

by james blessing on January 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm. Reply #

New post: Headlines you won't read today: University applications up this year more than 16%* http://t.co/A7tp5nDL

by Mr Moz on January 30, 2012 at 2:59 pm. Reply #

@ValWilkinson1 Easiest summary here http://t.co/iQAZAggP and then follow the links through to the stats and quotes

by Chris Nicholson on January 30, 2012 at 3:12 pm. Reply #

Headlines you won’t read today: University applications up this year more than 16%* http://t.co/fnYONIkt

by Andrew Ducker on January 30, 2012 at 3:12 pm. Reply #

Good analysis. But doesn’t this just show that the whole “fees will create a market” theory is rubbish?

Firstly because in a market you’d expect demand to fall when prices rise; the fall, in context, is tiny compared to the huge rise.

And more importantly, even with “only” 500,000 applications, universities are still hugely oversubscribed so they can pick and choose students. There is no competetion amongst universities for students, other than the fact that they compete for the *best* students but they did that all along.

The fact that the gov. is now having to introduct artificial mechanisms like the AAB bonus places to try to create competition just proves it.

The reforms haven’t lead to a fall in applications because it’s not a market and never will be. Fundamentally university education is not, for most people, a product that can be bought and sold in a market.

by Neuroskeptic on January 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm. Reply #

I meant haven’t lead to a major fall. They probably have caused a fall of a few %.

by Neuroskeptic on January 30, 2012 at 5:06 pm. Reply #

@shep7023 http://t.co/R24JqmpV Very cheeky article here on the spike.

by Thomas Byrne on January 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm. Reply #

"@ByrneToff: @shep7023 http://t.co/aUL12dC7 Very cheeky article here on the spike." Worth a read

by Sam Shepherd on January 30, 2012 at 7:16 pm. Reply #

http://t.co/GonKazNs via @stephentall

by Ian Shires on January 30, 2012 at 10:14 pm. Reply #

RT @stephentall: Headlines you won't read today: University applications up this year more than 16%* http://t.co/hAyNYn8F

by Scott Collins on January 30, 2012 at 11:40 pm. Reply #

[...] a small net improvement in social mobility, albeit via a slightly bizarre back door route. (Stephen Tall has highlighted the evidence from UCAS on this and put together this excellent [...]

by Understanding the university application figures on January 31, 2012 at 8:10 am. Reply #

University Applications still trending up on 2008/9: lgap years down in 2010/11: http://t.co/1v3rMOM5

by Steve Glover on January 31, 2012 at 10:24 am. Reply #

[...] Headlines you won’t read today: University applications up this year more than 16% by Stephen Tall on The Collected Stephen Tall. “Excellent piece of analysis from Stephen [...]

by Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #259 on February 5, 2012 at 7:00 pm. Reply #

Thanks Stephen, an interesting article, which I agree with.. “headline figures can easily mislead.” With the Political campaign gearing up for 2012… I am sure we will see many more examples of this.

Cheers. Jonathan

by Jonathan on April 18, 2012 at 4:54 pm. Reply #

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