Tuition fees: Guardian reality versus Indy froth

by Stephen Tall on January 31, 2012

There were two alternative ways of reporting yesterday’s figures on the university application figures, the first since the introduction of £9k maximum fees.

The Guardian’s reality…

The first way is to look at the figures, and try and understand what they might be saying even if they don’t fit with your ideological position. To its credit, this is the position adopted by The Guardian today:

As widely predicted, Ucas figures yesterday showed the number of applicants had dropped by 8.7%, the steepest fall in decades. But that powerful finding masked a number of other issues. There was, for example, a sharper drop in applications from the richest students than from the poorest. Tripling the fees appeared to have little deterrent effect in a market where demand continues to outstrip supply.

There are other important factors at work here. One is the demographic drop in the number of 18-year-olds. Another was the rush to get into university last year when fees were lower, with fewer taking gap years. But on the central charge that the price rises would deter the disadvantaged student from applying, these figures provided scant factual support. On the contrary, they appeared to show that on England’s one-way journey – so far – towards the fees that are being charged by America’s top universities, the market was taking the rises in its stride.

The Indy’s froth…

But there’s a second way: to ignore the reality of what the figures suggest, and instead hype-up a story to fit your own agenda. To its discredit, today’s Indy front page screams:

Teenagers turn their backs on a university education

Trouble is, it’s inaccurate. As I noted yesterday:

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).