University applications rise to record levels, despite tuition costs

The number of people applying to go to university is at its highest ever according to figures released by UCAS yesterday – despite the rise in tuition fees.

Between January and March this year applicants from England rose by 34,000 (from 291,000 to 325,000) compared with this point in the application cycle in 2006. The figures take into account applications submitted to UCAS up until 24 March 2007.

Physics, chemistry and biology are also proving more popular, with applications having “increased significantly”.

Higher education minister Bill Rammell MP said: “These highest ever figures continue to show that tuition fees are not putting students off applying to university as many predicted. The critics of the new system are being proved emphatically wrong.”

He added: “With the improved student finance package all students, no matter what their background, should be confident that there should be no financial barrier to them studying at whichever university or college they choose.”

But National Union of Students president Gemma Tumelty warned the figures must be seen in context.

“NUS raises concerns about the disappointing increases in participation from poorer students. Widening participation must remain the most important part of the higher education agenda.”, she said.
Tumelty added: “In the face of the government’s campaign to broaden access to universities, elite public schools have actually increased the number of pupils they send to Oxbridge over the past five years, while ethnic minority students are twice as likely to attend modern universities as traditional universities.”

The government is due to review the current £3,000 cap on tuition fees in England in 2009 and several of the most popular universities are already pressing to be able to levy higher fees.

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